The Necessity of Compassion

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” – Henry Ward Beecher

Here’s how one person described compassion: “A strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for other people’s suffering or bad fortune that produces a desire to help.”

Compassion is a big deal to God. Obviously.

He looks upon us in our fallen and sinful state, and pours out His compassion upon us through the gospel of Jesus Christ. He cares enough to do something about our plight.

Jesus threw down hard on the Pharisees because they lacked any empathy or concern for others. In Matthew 23 he scorched their ears with these words:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23, ESV)

Jesus also told the parable about the man who had been shown compassion by a powerful king. The man was deeply in debt, yet out of a spirit of compassion, the king chose to clear all his accounts.

We would think that such an act of mercy would greatly impact this man’s life. But as Jesus told his story, the forgiven man came across another man who owed him some pocket change. Rather than show this man the same mercy that was shown to him, the man sought to have the debtor thrown in jail. Jesus commentary on this man’s actions was harsh. He wanted his disciples to learn that such a lack of compassion revealed that the man really didn’t understand what was done for him by the king.

On the flip side, Jesus told a story known as the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate what real compassion looks like:

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’”

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37, NLT)

Remember the question the expert in the law asked: WHO’S MY NEIGHBOR?

Jesus turned it all around by challenging the man to be a neighbor, even to those he would rather criticize or condemn!

It’s interesting to think about all the different ways the people in the story related to the man in need:

  • To the lawyer, the wounded man was a subject to discuss
  • To the thieves, the wounded man was a someone to exploit
  • To the religious men, the wounded man was a problem to be avoided
  • To the innkeeper, the wounded man was a customer to serve a fee
  • But to the Samaritan, the wounded man was a human being worth being cared for and loved

I wonder: how often are we more like the lawyer, or the religious figures, or the innkeeper?

 

Troubleshooting a Stalled Spiritual Life

“My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay; Though some may dwell where these abound, My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.” A.W. Tozer

There are times when a gadget or an appliance or our car isn’t working right.

In some cases we can figure out a fix fairly quick. Other times we end up spending a lot of time troubleshooting, trying to figure how to solve our problem.

When it comes to our spiritual development, we can sometimes find ourselves dragging. Those times when God seems far away. Or we find ourselves with little hunger for spiritual things.

If we are a Christian, such seasons can be cause for concern.

This isn’t to say that every day we should expect to be on a spiritual high. But if spiritual boredom, lethargy, negativity or nagging doubt seem to have settled in upon us, we might want to try and figure out why.

Remember the first time you called for support in regard to a computer problem? The tech person likely asked you a simple, yet annoying question: “Is your computer plugged in?”

I’d venture to say that when we are stalling spiritually, that’s a great question to ask ourselves: “Are we plugged in?”

In most cases when people are in a spiritual stall, it doesn’t take much time to find an area or two where disconnection has taken place. Here are a few thoughts to help us take a spiritual inventory:

Are you plugged into God through prayer?

It’s hard to maintain a relationship with God if we aren’t talking with Him. Yet, this is an area of difficulty for many Christians. Prayer promotes humility and dependency. Often times the problem with our spiritual condition can be boiled down to a problem of pride and independence. Perhaps we need to allow prayer to push such troublesome attitudes to the side.

Are you plugged into God through His Word?

The essence of Psalm 119 is that God’s Word is valuable for our spiritual well-being. As bread is to our stomach, the Word is essential to our heart and mind. If you are a person who only occasionally nibbles on the Bible, take the words of James to heart: 

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:22-25, NLT)

Are you plugged into God through His people?

One sign that our faith is flagging is our attitude toward church attendance and spending time with godly Christians. When we are in sin, our mind often tells us to distance ourselves from the community of God’s people. Why? Sometimes because we are embarrassed or ashamed. Other times its because we don’t want to be challenged to stop what we are doing.

The Old Testament character Asaph was on a downward spiral because he saw so much sin happening around him. He became discouraged, and in time that discouragement led to despondency. But something got him back on his feet. Look at what Asaph wrote in Psalm 73:

Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked. Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. (Psalm 73:17-18, NLT)

Bottom line, Asaph got himself to church, and gained a new, fresh perspective that helped him move forward.

Are you plugged into God through service?

We used to live by a lake that was fed by a river, but it had no outflow. The result? The water was never refreshed. The water poured in, but then it just stayed stuck in the reservoir. The water became grossly stagnant. In fact, every summer the lake would clog with algae and kill thousands of fish.

Such is the life that lacks service. We need an outflow for all the good things God pours into our lives. If we keep them for ourselves we become stale and stagnant. As God pours into you, who are you pouring into?

Are you plugged into God through your witness?

When we share the story of Jesus and His gospel with others, we get energized. Why? Because we are being obedient to God and fulfilling our ultimate life purpose. When we hide the gospel message from others, we carry an unnecessary weight. We should share the attitude of Paul who wrote:

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. (Romans 1:16, NLT)

Our spiritual life is like a garden. It must be tended and cared for. It will not develop unless we pour energy and effort into it. Tozer once said, “There is only one way to make good on an intention, and that is to turn it into action.” One of the main reasons we may find ourselves stalled out spiritually is simply because we aren’t investing anything into it.

Paul offered this counsel to young Timothy to remind him that he had to work hardat growing spiritually:

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, prom inising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8, NLT) 

Bottom line, for some us it may be the time to plug in and get to work!

Favorite Books on my Shelf

Recently I was scanning through the bookshelves in my office, and it gave me the idea of posting a list of the favorite books in my collection.

I came up with this list by posing myself a question: If you were going to be stuck on a desert island, and could only keep 10 books from your library, what would they be?

Interesting, in this age of the internet and the at-your-fingertips access to information, I find that I purchase fewer books. And over the years I’ve off-loaded some as well.

Yet, my shelves are quite full, covering a wide range of Christian topics.

My list might be described as my idea of a solid start-up for the person looking to begin building a personal Christian library.

One thing I noticed in looking over my list is that I’m not drawn to huge books that take a topic and seem to run it into the ground. I’m just not likely to enmesh myself in the world’s biggest systematic theology. Too many words, as well as too much thoughts,  just make my brain turn to mush.

Also, I tend to avoid books that are filled with difficult-to-understand jargon. I love learning new words, but if I get the feel that someone is always reaching for the biggest word to make a point, I start to check out.  I seem to value pithiness, accessibility and practicality. Teach me deep things, but teach them to me simply.

One last thought: I’m not including Bibles to the list. This is just for books. If I can have one Bible I would take an ESV. If could take two, I’d take Peterson’s paraphrase called The Message.

So, here goes, in no particular order:

THE BELIEVERS BIBLE COMMENTARY: A COMPLETE COMMENTARY IN ONE VOLUME by William McDonald

Not too big, not too short. Not too technical, yet not too simplified. Doesn’t lean too heavily into one theological or denominational perspective. Just a solid volume that covers the Bible from beginning to end.

THE GRACE AND TRUTH PARADOX by Randy Alcorn

This little book could be read in two hours, but the message is profound. The apostle John described Jesus as one who was full of both truth and grace (John 1:14), and it is these two qualities that we ought to pursue. To pursue one and the expense of the other weakens our ministry efforts and debilitates our witness. My contention is that most Christians are living imbalanced, failing to grasp the example of Jesus. That’s why I love this book.

THE UPSIDE DOWN CHURCH by Greg Laurie

Laurie makes the case that rather than trying to keep with all the latest ministry trends, God is more than willing to bless the church that functions off the blueprint provided by Acts 2:42-27. Its a call to return to the basics, written in Greg’s easy-to-read conversational/relational style.

PREACHING WITH PASSION by Alex Montoya

Now, if I was on a desert island, I may not have anyone to preach to, but no matter…this book is a great tool to help improve what I call the dynamics of preaching. Many people become skilled at handling the technical aspects of study, but think very little about developing the skill of successfully transferring what has been learned. Montoya shares thoughts on  how voice, movement, imagination, conviction and heart are vital to effective preaching.

THE HIGH COST OF HOLINESS by Phillip Keller

Keller is known as a real-life shepherd who wrote many books relating shepherding to Christianity. This book was not nearly as widely read as his others, but I’ve always been amazed at how well he writes about counting the cost of following Christ. The back cover says, “Keller shares his personal understanding of what it means to follow Christ – the perils and the rewards – and calls us to go higher.”

ESSENTIAL TRUTHS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: 100 KEY DOCTRINES IN PLAIN LANGUAGE by R.C. Sproul

In this book, Sproul provides 2-3 page explanations for a variety of Christian doctrines. He divides them up into ten sections: revelation, the nature and attributes of God, the works and decrees of God, the Holy Spirit, human beings and the fall, salvation, the church and sacraments, spiritual living, and finally, the end times. A great way to develop a well-rounded theology.

DARING TO DANCE WITH GOD: STEPPING INTO GOD’S EMBRACE by Jeff Walling

This book is just so likable. Jeff Walling grew up as a child and teen in a legalistic denomination, one that made God seem distant and cold. But as he read his Bible, He began to view God through a different lens. He began to shed guilt, fear and duty in return for a spiritual life marked by energy, passion and excitement. Walling is a gifted communicator, both as a speaker and writer. His message of a grace-led relationship with God is one that some of us need to be reminded of time and time again.

LIVING BY THE BOOK by HOWARD HENDRICKS

With all the free time that living on a desert island affords, I would use this book to develop my Bible study skills. Hendricks’ book is user-friendly, but it is also very rich. It is good at explaining how to better engage the Word, as well as offering all sorts of practice exercises to sharpen the reader’s skills.

KNOWING GOD by J.I. Packer

J.I. Packer is a treasure to the church. Anything he writes is worth reading. Knowing God is his effort to bring theology, particularly the theology of God, to the masses. We live in a time where people have a lot of thoughts about God, but they are often more rooted in imagination than God’s actual revelation. This book helps people get an accurate and well-detailed understanding of the nature, character and attributes of God.

HERETICS/ORTHODOXY by G.K. Chesteron

This is actually two books, but I bought a single volume that includes both, so I’m going to call it one book! Chesterton is such an incredible thinker. This is the oldest book on my list, as Chesteron wrote these books in 1905 and 1908. Some have called Chesterton the Mark Twain of Christianity. Heretics is a collection of papers that Chesterton wrote to expose what he considered to be the unhealthy philosophies of his day. Orthodoxy is the follow-up to Heretics, and was written to present an alternative viewpoint, and is therefore both affirmative in tone and autobiographical in many places.

So there you go. There are plenty of great books in my collection, but at a cursory glance, these are the books that I have found either the most helpful, most inspiring or most intriguing.

Now if I can just get my passage to that desert island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daring to Move Beyond Labels

I wrote this blog piece for the Union Gospel Mission “LOSE THE LABEL” campaign a couple of years ago.

Label (noun):  1. a slip of paper, cloth, or other material, marked or inscribed, for attachment to something to indicate its manufacturer, nature, ownership, destination, etc. 2. a short word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, etc.

Labels are a part of life. Many of them can be very helpful. Labels help me distinguish between Gala and Fuji apples. They allow me to choose the right size shirt. Thanks to labels, I’m able to determine which grade of gasoline I’m putting in my truck. In many ways, I’m thankful for the various labels I encounter throughout my day.

In some cases, though, labels can be frustrating. Like when certain labels (due to excessive amounts of adhesive) refuse to come off an item that I’ve just purchased. It’s no fun trying to scrape off the remnants of paper and glue that seem to be determined to cling to my newly purchased item. And, of course, nothing seems more agitating when something is mislabeled. Ah, the annoyance that comes from having to return a mislabeled item that doesn’t fit or fails to work!

We often use labels to describe people. We use words like funny, kind, handsome or intelligent to characterize the people we come in contact with. It’s our way of classifying their physical attributes or personality traits. And generally, there’s nothing wrong with seeking to use a descriptive label to understand one another.

But there can be a real danger when we rely too heavily on using labels when it comes to distinguishing members of the human race. As helpful as most labels are, some labels carry negative connotations. The nursery rhyme may state that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But the reality is that some labels can be extremely discouraging and damaging.

I believe that if we are people seeking to accomplish effective ministry, we will have to make a concerted effort against employing the types of labels that often keep people from experiencing recovery and restoration.

Perhaps the best motivation for avoiding any negative labeling of people is by understanding some of the reasons why we label them in the first place. A few thoughts:

  • We label others because we’re fearful of trying to understand a person’s complexities. The reality is that every human being is complex, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. When we put a label on someone, we put on blinders and see only a narrow view of an expansive and complicated human being.
  • We label people because we’re too lazy to take the time to get to know them.Sometimes we’d rather just assume something about a person than really take the time to discover who they really are. What we end up doing is casting a stereotype upon that person. It’s easy to assume a person is snobby or uncaring, when the truth of the matter may be they are just shy.Kurt.Rachel
  • We label others because we’re judgmental. Labels are a quick and easy way to spread our prejudices. Without knowing anything about a person, we may make all sorts of presumptions based upon the color of their skin, where they live or how they dress.  We ought never judge the actions of others until we know their motives. In other words, we need to judge them with our heart and mind, not our eyes and ears.
  • We label others because we don’t want them to succeed. In some cases, we cast labels upon people hoping they will permanently stick. We call someone a loser. We describe them as failure. We brand them the “black sheep” of the family. And the reason we do so is an insidious attempt to put limits upon their ability to flourish and thrive.

Once we understand why we label others, we can work on eliminating the habit of labeling. We can overcome negative labeling by cultivating unconditional acceptance, compassion, and understanding We can learn to observe and experience the world without judgement. We can remain detached from expectations and demands. We can learn to accept what is and people as they are. We can grow in humility.

As I serve at the UGM Center for Women and Children in Coeur d’Alene, I encounter all sorts of people from a myriad of experiences, cultures and backgrounds. As a result, I can often feel the tug and temptation to resort to labeling. At times like these, I seek to remind myself that there is one label that applies to every human being: we are all created in the image of God. God has formed, knit and crafted His amazing imprint into each and every individual. True, humanity is a fallen and broken race. We have faults and we experience failure. But, by God’s design, we represent (in a limited fashion) many characteristics of our Creator.

The other thing I try to keep in mind is that, because of the grace of God and the power of the Gospel, every person is redeemable. In other words, we can break free of the labels that daunt us. Through Christ, we can leave behind labels like loser, failure or disappointment and exchange them with new, fresh descriptions of our identity in Jesus: beloved, victorious, overcomer.

Avoiding Mission Drift

The writer of Proverbs provides this interesting piece of advice:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

Now when the Bible speaks about the heart, it’s not talking about the physical organ that resides within our chest.

But I believe there is a connection!

The heart, physically speaking, is the central organ of the human body that keeps everything going!

Did you know that it wasn’t until the 1600’s, thanks to a man named William Harvey, that it was fully understood how the heart served as the pump that moves blood throughout the body?

As we well know, no heart, no life.

When the Bible talks about “the heart of a person,” it is speaking about a person’s intellectual, emotional and moral core.

Out of the heart can flow many good things, or conversely, the heart can be a channel for a lot of evil.

The challenge for every believer is guarding and protecting their heart from allowing certain influences and ideologies from entering in that send us off course.

How do we do this?

  • A lot of time in the word
  • A lot of time in prayer
  • A lot of time around godly people
  • Wise decisions regarding the use of our time and quality of our relationships

Just as much as we as individuals must put effort to keeping our heart properly informed and directed, we as a church must also guard our understanding of mission.

In other words, we need to make sure that we aren’t suffering from mission drift.

Jesus made our mission clear.

In Matthew 28:19-20, known to most as the teaching of the Great Commission, Jesus boiled down the disciples’ job description down to three primary activites:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Baptize them
  3. Teach and train them to grow in Christ and serve others

Not difficult to understand, is it?

Then, in Acts 1 (in His very last words to His disciples), Jesus described how He wanted this mission to be implemented:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:6-9 ESV)

So, in Matthew 28, Jesus described the nuts and bolts of the mission. We might call this the “what” of His mission.

And in Acts 1 He tells the disciples just how far the mission is to extend around the world!

I believe the key phrase in this passage is when Jesus says:

“You will be my witnesses”

Their job was to go out and start talking to others about what they had heard Jesus say and what they had seen Jesus do.

They were to describe the power of His ministry and the purpose of His crucifixion.

Once again, Jesus’ directives seem pretty plain and obvious.

Which makes me wonder: why is it that we seem to be so busy with other things?

Why has God’s mission for his people seemed to be pushed to the back of the bus?

In recent years, a phrase has made the rounds around social media that is meant to call attention to our propensity to drift away from what a person was initially asked to do:

“You had one job.”

I wonder how many times God would like to say that to us?

The Promise of Christianity: Change

Politicians love to pitch change. They tell us that if we give them our vote, we can expect a bright and better tomorrow.

Though some may be sincere, those changes rarely seem to happen. Which leads to a level of disappointment.

Why? Because, as the Bible says, “hope deferred make the heart sick.”

Christianity is different than politics.

Christianity offers change, and for those who want it, change can be attained.

So what kind of change does Christianity extend?

Speaking broadly, I would say that Christianity offers two basoc areas of transformation:

  • Change in the status of our relationship with God
  • Change in the area of our thinking, which in turn produces change in the area of our practice

In regard to our relationship with God, Christianity changes everything. There is so much that could be said about this, but may I just offer a pair of scriptures to make the point:

First, one from Colossians:

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. (Colossians 1:22-23 ESV)

What a contrast! Through Jesus Christ, we can move from being alienated, hostile and doers of evil to being described as holy, blameless and above reproach!

Now, a favorite passage from Romans:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

The words that stand out to me in this passage include peace, access, joy, love and hope.

Once again, all these things are only obtained by embracing Christ as Lord and Savior.

Because of Christianity, I would describe the difference in our standing with God like this: we become family. In fact the Bible uses terms like adopted and grafted in to explain how we move from outsiders to  belonging to God’s tribe.

The other aspect of change is in the area of our thoughts and actions.

Simply put, being a Christian is meant to change how we live.

Paul wrote these words about the potential for change in every believer’s life:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

If we are made new, we can expect to live new!

Here’s how it happens: true transformation of the mind results in transformation of our attitudes which in turn results in the transformation of our actions.

In the case of our salvation, the changes come all at once. In the moments we place faith in Christ we are instantly justified and reconciled to God. Apart from believing, all this change is completely a work of God.

When it comes to the practice of our life, change happens over the course of time. And it demands our involvement. God is still the changer, but we must participate in the process.

When it comes to experiencing life transformation, a key verse for every Christian to know comes from Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

All spiritual change begins in how we think.

As we learn God’s Word we begin to see what pleases Him and what doesn’t.

We can begin to make wise choices about all sorts of things, including our relationships, finances, recreation, vocation and so on.

Regarding the reality of change, the late Adrian Rogers said this:

“The same Jesus Who turned water into wine can transform your home, your life, your family, and your future. He is still in the miracle-working business, and His business is the business of transformation.”

One of the most astounding visuals found in creation is the process where a caterpillar wraps itself up in a cocoon and over the course of time emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

That process is known as metamorphosis.

And spiritual metamorphosis is something that is near and dear to the heart of God.

Ultimately, Christianity is all about God taking people and renewing them and redeeming them and restoring them!

Through spiritual transformation God can bring about change in the way we think, the quality of our relationships, the depth of our character, and even in the area of some of our harmful habits.

Here’s a last thought: spiritual transformation has to happen from the inside-out.

Its not the pursuit of self-improvement, and its not simply trying to do better

No, it is completely a God-work. Our job is to simply apply ourselves to understanding His Word and listening to His Spirit.

As you think about your relationship with God and your walk with Him, are change and transformation words you equate with your Christian experience?

If not, then you are essentially missing out on what it means to be a follower of Jesus!