Compassion


But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Ephesians 2: 13-16

 

This passage is about Jews and Gentiles; these are the two groups that he was discussing. In his view of the world, there were no other divisions to be considered as primary. Of course, there were many other ways that people were separated from each other, and these were also the basis for animosity, a sense of superiority, and divisive laws or rules for living. Paul had been a strict follower of these ordinances and commandments himself. However, his encounter with Christ had changed all of this. He no longer knew any superiority to others based upon his birth status, and he now believed that God had called him to work to bring people closer together by leading them to the same place in there hearts and minds; that is, he sought to bring them to the cross of Christ as their common meeting place.

 

As modern day followers of the same Christ that had worked out this miraculous change of heart and of thinking in Paul, our hope should be the same as his was. We live in a world that is filled with the language of difference. There are many overt and subtle ways that this is conveyed to us on a very frequent basis. Most of us, if we honestly assess our thoughts and views of others, hold some specific images of superiority for ourselves and for the institutions, organizations, and nations that we are affiliated with. This is the way that we have been raised up, is the thinking that we instill in our children, and it is a manner in which we filter our world in order to create that sense of comfort and safety that is so important to us. Yet, these self-imposed differences, one from another, also divide us from those who we hold as inferior in some form or manner.

 

This is where I hold that Paul’s discussion of Jews verses Gentiles here is truly about everyone on the earth throughout all of time. The real division is people who know God through knowing Jesus Christ and those who do not. So, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, and gender distinctions do not actually matter to God, and they should make no difference to us either. People who know Christ are to be embraced as family and nurtured, cared for, and supported in their walks through life. People who do not know Christ are to be loved, cared for, nurtured in the faith as well as in body and mind, shown Christ’s grace, and provided with the opportunity to experience Him through the words and deeds of His living body the church. We can desire peace in all forms and hope for it to come to our world, but there is only one effective answer to the divisiveness that creates animosity among the peoples of our times, and that is Christ. He brings us all to a place of meeting that is transformative. For, as we gather at the cross, the only goals that matter are Christ’s as in Him we are all now citizens of God’s Kingdom and brothers and sisters in service to its one eternal King.

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.

2 Corinthians 9: 6

 

This is a discussion about money and what we do with it. It is also a statement that applies to the things that we own, and it speaks to our attitude toward our time. Mostly, this is a comment on the way that we view other people, their needs, and our own sense of security in our relationship with Christ. He gave everything for us. Christ lived a life in which He took on our pain and suffering while demonstrating the depths of God’s loving compassion for His people. While doing this He continually looked to the Father and trusted Him to supply all wisdom, direction, and the resources that were needed.

 

Even with Christ’s example in mind, it is not always so easy to actually believe that God will supply me with everything that I need. So, holding everything that I have, including my money, prized possessions, and time, in fully open hands is not all that natural an act for me. It is even harder to risk exposing my heart to others in a manner that makes me vulnerable. Still, all of this is what God has given to me. He gives completely, absolutely, and without reservation for everything of significance that I have comes from His generosity. Most importantly, Christ gives me His heart, and in doing this, He changes mine from one that seeks to protect itself from exposure to pain and loss to a heart that can more openly share God’s love with others.

 

When we give we don’t get to control the return; yet, the more we give, the more we are acting like our Lord. The more open we are with our love, mercy, compassion, and understanding, the more we are transformed into the image of Christ. God’s direction for our lives is not easy, but it is simple. He wants us to openly and willingly reach out to all who are needy, all who are thirsty, and all who are alone. Then, He wants us to give everything that we have to meet those needs while fully trusting Him to continue to provide us with all that we will ever require for life.

 

And he was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21: 5

 

It can be hard to be optimistic these days. There is so much wrong in our world, and the pain that all of this brokenness is causing is hard to handle. It doesn’t even need to be personal hurt, loss, and suffering for it to have a strong impact upon us. Then, when the sting of life’s sorrows does come to us in a personal manner, our already tender and raw hearts can be overwhelmed by it all. This is a challenging time in a tough place to live; yet, we are not even close to being alone in this place or in our journey through it. From that moment when it all went sideways, God has been involved in this world and with us as He seeks out all that are lost and has set His plan for full redemption into motion.

 

The plan is present as God articulated it in those first dark hours of creation’s rebellion, and its resolution is a promise that God has made to that same creation and that He specifically gave to the people of this world. We were to be saved out of our sin-devised death by Christ, and He has come and He does save us through faith and by His unfathomable grace. Although I and others who live today may not see that day of final renewal during our current lives on earth, we can be certain of God’s promise that this day of restoration for creation will come. For me there is a hopefulness to be found in this knowledge, for my own efforts on behalf of God’s kingdom are neither wasted nor are they of minor importance to my Lord. He calls me to do what it is that I engage in, and He empowers that effort as He directs it.

 

This reality provides me with true freedom. It expresses the hope that underlies life in this world. For as there is pain, loss, and suffering afoot everywhere today, the presence of God is also here with me, and that presence pours out the glory of my Creator and Lord onto all that I encounter. In moments of loss, He is there to comfort and to fill up with His infinite love. During the hours of pain, Christ shares in it and provides a form of grace that soothes the sting of my raw and tortured nerves. It does seem to me that even over the harsh and raucous noise of our world today that the voices of the angelic choir that surrounds the throne of God can be heard singing out their unceasing praises to the Lord. They speak of God’s promise of total renewal, and they lead me to join in with them in singing praises to Christ who has redeemed me and is working every day to perfect His renewal in me and in all who follow Him.

For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9: 9

 

In at least one sense, Ezra is speaking truthfully about our lives today; for, we are slaves. It seems to me that living in this world and the effects of being surrounded by what often seems to be a relentless assault by evil can cause us to feel as if we are just as enslaved as were the Israelites during the times of foreign captivity. It often feels like our thoughts are being held captive by our culture. We perceive that it is unsafe to express what we really believe in public. We live with concerns that all forms of entertainment are likely to be infused with dangerous lies or with harmful images. It is easy for followers of Christ to come to the conclusion that there is no righteousness to be found in our world.

 

Yet, Ezra’s calling to stand firm and to shout out the truth of the Lord’s calling to His people in a very oppressive public environment is also our calling. The Lord does not want us to remain enslaved, trapped, and made ineffectual by the forces of evil that try to take away our freedom. God is not silent in these times; for, He speaks continually to the hearts and into the minds of anyone who will seek Him out and who will listen. God wants us to proclaim our freedom in Christ. In so doing He also wants us to bring restoration to the world around us.

 

We can stand up with courage before the rulers of this world, and we need to stand firmly for the freedom that Christ has given to us. We do this most effectively by refusing to buy into the lies and the deception that evil uses to divert us from our true calling and to frighten us into submission to its mission of destruction. Truth is spoken very clearly in God’s Word, and we are called by Christ to proclaim that truth without reservation, hesitation, or compromise. Our Lord also calls us to love all others with the same passion that He holds for relationship with all people. As we do this we become agents for restoration by bringing the love of Christ and His grace into the lives of people who are caught in the trap of bondage to this world. So, as we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in our hearts and in our communities, we can reclaim important parcels of territory for the Kingdom of God.

 

Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 16: 20

 

Certainly we all want and seek after justice. Why would it be any other way? Justice is what makes this world seem fair, and it is what allows us to trust in our social systems. Yet, what passes for justice in our culture is often perverted, held back, or completely absent from the scene. Considering that Moses is warning the nation of Israel about God’s concerns regarding their application of justice, it would seem that the problem of actually living as a just society is not such a modern issue. The desire to receive just treatment is fundamental to human endeavor. Likewise, our reluctance to grant it to others runs deeply in our fallen hearts.

 

Justice is the last thing that Satan wants for us to honestly embrace. He is served by people who hold a distorted and a perverted view of what it means to live justly. God’s view of justice involves a system where our treatment of others can not be bought or sold. There should be no price that can be paid in order to receive proper treatment from people that have position, power, and authority. Also, there are no people who are so empowered and authorized who will change their ruling or alter their perspective based upon another’s ability or willingness to pay. Justice, as God views it, requires us to be willing to do all that is in our power to see to it that everyone is treated with dignity, respect, and in a manner that seeks to build up both the individual and the society.

 

The application of justice involves sacrifice. We need to give away opportunities to gain status and power in order to treat others in this manner. Living in a just land is often a dirty and a messy business. The people that we need to engage with in order to bring it about are quite often the poor, the disadvantaged, and the lost. They can be people who are easy to pass by, and frequently they are the ones that we desire with all of our hearts to ignore in the hopes that they won’t speak to us. These people are the ones that the brokenness of sin has marked as easy targets. These are the members of society that Jesus walked up to and embraced with the warmth and the compassion of the Father. These people are you and I in any number of possible circumstances. These disadvantaged and damaged souls are equally made in God’s image. They are our neighbors, and they are our brothers and sisters.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Romans 8: 20, 21

 

On this date, July 4th, the United States of America, the country where I live and the one that birthed and raised me, celebrates freedom. This day is the singular great holiday on the nation’s calendar, and it is generally the occasion for a massive and hopefully unifying party. I do think that freedom is worth celebrating and also that the freedoms that are considered to be fundamental to the national character of the United States are truly worthy of a vast and universal party. We should gather at the hearts of our communities, play festive music, remember those who have sacrificed in order to secure our world and this nation, and light up the sky with fireworks. Freedom is more than a worthy reason for all of this. Still, I think that there is a freedom that is greater than all that we are celebrating today, and it is something that we certainly should consider as we put on our party clothes and sing out our national hymns.

 

The need for freedom comes about because of its absence, its loss. When God made this world He made it and us free. We had an almost unfettered ability to make choices and to enter into our roles as the rulers of our daily life on earth. God did provide guidance and law, He was directly involved with us on an ongoing basis, and people were granted responsibility and were given freedom that was in balance with it. We know the story. This freedom was taken to extremes and the responsibility to follow God’s will and to reverence Him above all else was set aside with catastrophic results. So, we live in a world where everything is distorted and corrupted and wherein it is hard to find the sort of true freedom that God designed and intended from the beginning of our world’s history.

 

This country does set out concepts and ideas that move in the direction of the form of freedom that God desires for people and for His creation to enjoy. Yet, I do wonder if we don’t get some of it wrong or at least in the wrong order. The greatness in this nation is found in its world-embracing diversity and by virtue of the gift of resources that allow for this soil to enfold people who come with nothing and grant them the opportunity to develop and to become contributors to the well being of others. This is a nation where humanity’s great conversations can take place in an open and protected environment in which understanding is the objective. We can meet and share our faith, our understanding of the nature and the person of God, our views on the makeup and function of family, how we care for this planet, and the best way to establish peace upon its surface and among its people. The ability to enter into these and many other discussions, both large and small, is a part of the freedom that God has granted to us here.

 

The glory of God is seen in our love for others and in our openness to hearing their stories and to caring for them. There is no greater freedom than what is found in the ability to set aside fears and to embrace God’s desire for reconciliation among peoples who have become separated by the human-derived barriers of this broken world. This sort of thing is the foundational greatness that can set the United States apart in our world. This nation has great resources, and I would pray that we would learn to use them to care for people who are in need. This nation grants many freedoms, and I desire to see us tender them to multitudes in order to narrow the gaps of understanding and mistrust that are prevalent in our world today. There is much to celebrate here today, and as we do this, I do sincerely pray that the glory that fills our sky will be that of the Lord as His desire and will for people to enjoy true and eternal freedom becomes the hymn of our nation.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8: 9

 

People want to be rich. There is no question in my mind that the desire for wealth operates as a basic drive in most of humanity. It doesn’t seem to matter where we live, what our culture looks like, or how much we have, we want to obtain enough more so that we are separated out from the rest of those around us. We desire the power, and we covet the capacity to seemingly make our own choices and enter into control over the decisions that effect the course of our days. In the story telling of various cultures there are few examples of people who are help up for their poverty, and there are multitudes of them about those who achieved great things and obtained the wealth that came from those feats. Simply, we value power and the powerful; so, we seek after the means to posses that power.

 

Yet, God did not design our world to be like this. There was no inequality in the Lord’s construct and design of Creation. There was really no need for people to seek after more, for God provided them with an abundance of all that was needful and granted them full access to choose from His earthly garden’s bounty with very few restrictions. This was not enough for to meet the desires of our ancestor’s minds and hearts, and we know how that decision went and what it means for all of us who have come after them. That is the point here as the one entity in all of the universe who had the right to posses everything, who was truly rich in the fullest sense of what defines wealth, was willing to set it all aside in order to enter into the singular journey that would lead to redemption for all of humanity. Jesus was not under compulsion to leave behind the splendor and the great glory of Heaven; instead, He chose to do this. He elected to pour out His wealth and the related power of His lordship over all.

 

In doing this, Jesus was willing to hand Himself over to being subject to the abuses and made Himself vulnerable to the oppressive acts of those who seemed to hold all of the real power in the world. Of course, His abusers were existing in a false reality, for in the culmination of that oppressive power’s outworking upon Jesus at the cross, the reality of evil’s feeble hold on life became apparent beyond all disputing. Jesus made Himself poor so that every person who desired to know God could enter into the possession of the true wealth of Heaven and so that we could know that riches here and now and for all of eternity. It seems that in God’s view of what constitutes wealth that there are valuable gems and valid systems of measurement that are weighed out in unending increments of love, grace, soul-deep peace, fellowship, and truth. As we follow Christ along the course of life that leads ever further into His will, we are led by Christ and in response to His example to release our grip upon the wealth and the related power that this world values so highly and enter into our Lord’s sacrificial love for everyone in our world.

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