Compassion


Blessed are they who observe justice,

who do righteousness at all times.

Psalm 106: 3

 

What is justice? It might be the thing that all of the law-breakers in our world deserve, and that is absolutely true, for granting punishment and reward based upon a person’s actions is a part of the definition of the term. It is a system whereby our society is compelled into conformity with a set of rules that we call law so that reasonable order has a better chance of prevailing over our natural bent toward chaos and self-serving actions. Yet, as lofty and valuable as these concepts of justice might be, it is elevated to a higher plane when it is combined with righteousness as its outward or active expression.

 

It seems to me that God’s form of what constitutes justice is actually grounded at a very basic and fundamental level. It involves the care and the nurture of those who are defenseless or without real resources and power. It sets aside personal gain or benefit and even sacrifices these aspects of life in order to value all people and the entirety of creation as what they are, which is God’s carefully crafted handiwork. Justice surrenders excess and even gives well beyond the point of comfort in order to elevate the lives of all people, and it does these things with a special emphasis on those who are foreign or different from us. This thing called justice flows out of the heart of God, and it is fully formed upon Christ’s cross of sacrifice; thus, it is truly expressed when we enter into the freedom that only comes as grace and mercy overtake our lives so that we start feeling, thinking, and acting as Christ in all aspects of life.

 

This is the point where righteousness takes over the concept and the ideal that is justice and turns it into the approach that we take to actually express Christ in and to our world through the actions of our days. This takes place as we surrender to Christ our fears, concerns, self-centered desires, and other aspects of being the old person that we were before Christ so that we can allow the Spirit to work within us in ways that effect real and even miraculous transformation upon our hearts and minds. It is righteousness that puts an arm around the impoverished traveler and offers up a warm place of shelter and a place to eat at one’s own table. It is Christ who takes us away from the comfort and the safety of our normal path and offers up a listening ear, an understanding spirit, and the possibility of redemption to the outcast soul. So, as we respond to our world’s needs and its needy people with love, care, mercy, love, and grace we are entering into the Lord’s blessing upon our lives and covering the places that we touch with His righteous justice.

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The Lord sustains him on his sick bed; in his illness you restore him to full health.

Psalm 41: 3

 

David had been ill. He was weak and his spirit was getting down, for he just didn’t have the energy or the desire to go about the business of life. Additionally, he was facing the usual array of challenges and threats that seemed to plague his life and that seem to haunt most of our days, as well. Enemies, opponents, and even people that he thought he could trust were obviously wishing him ill. This is a hard time and place to be in, and it is the sort of place where life takes everyone.

 

Sometimes the sickness is of the short term physical kind, at other times it has a long duration, and some illness is of the heart and of the soul. Whatever form it takes, it all can take us to a place where we just can’t keep going on our own. Maybe that is the point that God wants to get across to us. There simply are issues in life and times of coping with them that require something more powerful than what is contained in the boxes, bottles, and blister packs of magical medicines at the drug store. These are the times when we need to start our healing process from the spirit and let God’s healing Spirit bring us the strength to deal with the current situation.

 

Whether it is a cold or the coldness of loss, regret, and fear that are grasping your heart and wrapping your mind in its grip of confusion and uncertainty, the Lord promises a cure. When we start looking closely at who God is and at how He works in our lives, He brings clarity to the mind and strength to the heart. God’s Word brings His promises. His Spirit brings hope and understanding, and His loving grace provides healing for all that is causing distress. God calls to us, and He asks us to turn to Him in prayer and in contemplation. God seeks us out wherever we have gone. His voice of truth brings restoration to our broken bodies and spirits. The Lord is merciful as He brings us His peace.

 

Blessed be … the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1: 3, 4

 

Discomfort is a term that people in the medical field often use to describe sensations that can range from the mildly annoying all the way to knock you to your knees disabling pain, and this same concept seems to apply to the things that produce what we call discomfort in the rest of life, too. The things that cause us to become uncomfortable can be as minor as a paper cut or a serious as a terminal illness, and they will be simple to fix like a lost button, and totally challenging like a lost relationship. In any and in all of these situations there is only one place to turn in order to gain real perspective and to gain the sort of healing calm that comes from a heart that is at peace and has confidence regardless of what is happening. This is when we need to look to the source of all comfort, God.

 

The Lord wants to place His loving hands on our shoulders and help us gain the sort of perspective that comes from the truth of His Word and through the interaction of His Spirit. Additionally, He wants to engage with us in all of the situations in our lives where we find ourselves stressed out, frazzled, fearful, angry, or dealing with any of the other emotional states that tend to get us off track and make us less functional as people whose primary calling in this world is to bring glory to God. Since most people don’t like to admit that we don’t have a satisfactory plan for handling all that comes our way and that we don’t possess the resources that we need in ourselves, it requires real strength and courage to take all of our concerns and challenges and turn them over to Christ; yet, He does have and will provide everything that we do need.

 

Like the rest of God’s relationship with us, He wants to give comfort to us. However, it doesn’t stop there; for, the Lord wants us to get our feet under us and to understand and trust Him so that we can, in turn, become people who help others understand where and how to find this same sort of life-changing perspective and the deep peace that comes out of it. We need to allow God to open our minds and our hearts to the pain and to the hurting people around us; for, when we comfort others, we bring God’s presence into their lives, and we express our blessing to the Lord.

 

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10: 43-45

 

Many people spend a great amount of time and considerable effort in developing themselves. I know that I have and continue to do this very thing. It actually is good to have knowledge and skills. These are useful. Even the positions of leadership and influence that these acquired abilities support are valuable and worthwhile in both human and in Kingdom of God terms. So, I don’t think that Jesus was speaking against His people becoming leaders in our world, community, or other areas of life. It seems that His point is focused on how we conduct ourselves in life and on the way that we view our responsibility to all of the others that we meet as we travel through our days.

 

In other words, Christ wasn’t saying that we should seek to occupy only the lowliest of positions in our culture because positions of greater authority and responsibility will always corrupt the holder of the office. He is saying that the attitude that we need to have as we go about living life is one that we can see from His approach to His life among us. Jesus is God. He is the rightful and appointed King over this entire world. Yet, He agreed to set aside all of His position and apparent authority in order to live with and among us, to teach and demonstrate righteous living to us, and to sacrifice Himself for us. Christ was willing to serve all of humanity in a manner that was unknown before His life with us and that remains elusive to this day. His sacrificial service knew no limits or limitations. He cared for those who were close to Him and for those who despised Him and brought Him harm. Christ did this without regard for any of the distinctives, points of reference, or divisions that we routinely consult in placing value on others.

 

Jesus calls upon His people to follow Him. He meant that in absolute terms. There is nothing that He would have us hold back, and there are no people that He grants us permission to treat differently than He would. This is one of those areas where life as a follower of Christ gets hard, for I think that Jesus is telling me to repent for my attitudes of superiority and self-righteous pride. He says that I must stop viewing any others as lesser beings. So, I must submit myself to serving the needs of all others, and in Christ’s view, the greatest of those needs is for relationship with God. Jesus is calling upon us to love others without concern over their acceptance of our love, to bind up the physical and the emotional wounds that we see around us, and to give all that we have in order to bring the presence of Christ into the darkness of our world. Jesus is telling me that the best place for me to view the Kingdom of Heaven is while on my knees in humble submission to His will as I wash the feet of the stranger, the foreigner, the sick and the weak, and those who might angrily reject me.

 

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9: 36

 

Jesus knew the people; He was very aware of what they were like and how they were living. This was true because He spent significant amounts of time in their company. He didn’t stand back or remain aloof and separate from the crowds. Jesus wanted to get up close to the full spectrum of humanity, and He was willing, even desirous, to connect personally with the dirty and unwashed, the angry or demented, the poor and oppressed, and the well off and powerful. They were all to be counted among the lost and wandering sheep of this earth when it came to these encounters with the Savior. Each and every one of them was in need of the truth of the Gospel and the love of God.

 

So, Jesus traveled along their paths of wandering as He went where people in need were located. Christ did what God had done from the beginning of His relationship with us in that He came after us. Jesus did not sit back, station Himself in a suitable place to conduct His business, and wait for the people to come to Him. He went out into the world, took the risks that this act involves, and He reached out His hand of mercy, love, and truth to everyone that He encountered along the way. Jesus knew that He held the answer to the challenges that all people face in this life. He was fully aware that direction and purpose and the empowerment to enter into them are all provided to us by God and through His Word. He brought that Word of Life to the doorsteps of the world in His flesh. He carried God’s salvation to the paths of destruction that people had taken in our shepherd less states of being.

 

Jesus conducted Himself in this compassionate manner, and He desires or us to do the same sort of thing. Christ has left each of His followers with His Word of truth to cherish and to utilize in understanding and engaging with life. However, that same word is a living and a dynamic document as well as a Spirit-engaged testimonial to God’s grace, mercy, love, and redemption. We are, in fact, to be the workers in the fields of harvest that the Lord speaks about. Christ sends us out from our homes, our churches, and our comfort into a world where directionless existence is the normal state of affairs. He guides us and counsels us in this journey of faith, and Christ, Himself, does the actual work of convincing and convicting people of their need for Him. We are to be people who act in faith as we are yielded to Christ’s compassion for others. As we journey into our world, we will encounter these lost sheep to love and to share the truth of life with, and the compassion that we show to them will reflect that of our Lord onto the landscape around us.

For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 25: 16

 

This verse comes at the end of a long string of recitations of a code for living in a civil and a just society. Although it is connected directly to an ordinance about using fair and proper weights and measures in the acts of buying and of selling goods, it is really a comment about the way that God views all forms of social interaction. The Lord wants to make it very clear that He pays close attention to the way that we interact with each other. God desires that people would all live in a form of harmony and with a sense of justice that is universal. When we cheat each other and steal from others it is an affront to God’s character. He is justice, and He is truth and honesty. These qualities are formed and defined in and by the Father.

 

I believe that we no longer live in countries that are under the same sort of national moral mandate as did the Israelites in these early times. Then the nation, itself, was charged with living in a relationship with God that then flowed out to the people through leaders such as Moses and through the priests and prophets as God’s ordained servants and spokespersons. Our world is different in many ways. Most profoundly, we live in a time when we enter into a relationship with God individually and personally though Christ. Each person is charged with understanding God’s truth and with applying it to our lives. Although we are still under a mandate to grant due respect to our governmental leaders and to honor our country, each of us is directed by God to understand His righteousness and to apply it to the way that we conduct our lives whether private, personal, or public. Christ also requires His people to seek justice and to show mercy to those who are not in positions of power and easy acceptance, and this mandate exists even when those leaders and governments disagree with God’s concept of justice and peacemaking.

 

This is why God’s code of social conduct matters so much to Him and why it should be highly significant to each of us in Christ. The way that we transact life with others speaks loudly about the relationship that we have with God. When we set aside gain for the good of others, we are living as Christ demonstrated to us. When we speak up for the disadvantaged and the voiceless, we are doing as God desires for us to do. As children of the Living God we are not granted any margin of comfort or of safety in this area. Christ calls upon us to live on that ragged edge of our culture where there is no net of security to catch us and no path of easy acquiescence to the direction that those in power may have taken when that path runs in opposition to God’s ways. However, this counter cultural path is the place from which the view that our eyes will see is of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the image that we demonstrate to our world is the face of Christ.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3: 27-29

 

There is one and only one point of convergence for all that truly matters in this world. No one and nothing other than Jesus Christ brings us together in ways that are valid and lasting. Yet people who claim Christ are not unified. We argue and disagree, and sadly, we too frequently do so over trivia, minutiae, and about third-rate issues of our understanding of Scripture and faith practice. Yet, there are other issues that are not unimportant and that should work to bring those of us who know Christ closer together rather than drive a wedge into our unity. Paul is identifying a major set of division creators from his days, and these would appear to be rather universal in that even after these two thousand years they and related issues continue to break apart people who claim faith in Christ.

 

Too many of these divisions are based upon worldly issues such as nationalism, protection of human institutions, the acquisition of wealth and power, care for the powerless, inclusion of the oppressed, and gender or racial equality and right treatment. The resolution of these long-standing issues should be found in our Lord’s presence and through the safety of spirit that comes in knowing Him to the degree that God is trusted to provide all. In the light of this eternal truth, we can all be people who give up our sense of protection and self-defense, and we can become people and therefore nations of people who operate out of a first-fruits giving state of heart that fears for nothing and that embraces all others without regard to their differences from us. Unfortunately for many of us this is not a quiet and passive sort of sit back and watch for the Lord to work form of commission from Christ.

 

When we move toward Christ, we also step ever more fully toward His cross. We step into the painful encounters and the hard decisions that He was forced to make in order to right the effects of the world’s sinful brokenness. Christ’s church has always been gathered together on that hill of suffering and pain where the cross is planted; yet, as we so gather we are also entering into our Lord’s victory over every power and all of the evil that operates in this world. In our days with their violence, oppression, and divisive currents of arrogant speech and legislation, we need to stand as the church of Christ in open and fearless opposition to all that is ungodly in our midst. Even the thought or the suggestion that racial superiority exists is wrong, the concept of protecting one’s nation at the cost of the lives of the oppressed is anti-God, failing to care for the poor and the weak regardless of the cost fails to recognize the Lord as our true provider, and the list goes on. We can choose to step out of our fears and our selfish concerns and journey together through our days as the church of Jesus Christ united in His Spirit and pouring out His grace, love, and mercy upon this desperate world. Or we can remain separated and apart.

 

This is a choice that we get to make. I believe that Christ does call upon His people to make it. These are defining days for each of us who know Christ as we make decisions about the way that we will conduct our lives. If we remain silent on the issues that are confronting our world today, we are saying that we accept the rhetoric, the actions, and the course that those in power at this moment dictate. This is not an acceptable course for Christ’s people or for His church. We should not fear the outcome of our actions when they are dictated by the truth of God’s Word, and we cannot continue to hold onto thoughts and concepts that stand in opposition to that same Word. We, Christ’s people and His church, must repent of our sinful acceptance of the world’s standards and views, turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit for guidance, and step onto the common ground of the cross from which we will work under Christ’s direction and in His power to bring redemption and healing to this world.

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