Compassion


I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know you have little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3: 8

If we think that the world that we live in is antagonistic toward our faith in Christ, perhaps we should consider the one that this church at Philadelphia occupies. Whatever we face might start looking very tame and civil in comparison. Still, without regard to the nature of our times verses those that are to come in the future, there is something truly important to consider and to hold onto for all of us in the church of Christ today. These people were lifted up as examples of what it means to hold onto their faith as they endure all that the world throws at them and continue to serve Christ in all that He calls upon them to be and to do. This will not be easy for them, and it is certainly not simple or easy for us either.

In fact, the nature of the times that we are a part of is such that I think many Christians today do resonate with the fact that we feel powerless. It seems as if the voice of love and of reason that we have learned to utilize as an imitation of the manner and the tone that Christ would have us use to engage with others is no longer useful or even considered to be worthy of hearing. These are days when shouting with the force of a hail storm has been deemed to be the only communication style that will be heard. Yet, no one grants others the respect that is necessary to actually hear what is being said. In fact, very few people today care about what others have to say or would grant the possibility that a differing opinion could possibly be right. This appears to be the case when the oppositional view point is expressed by people on their own, and it is equally true when the other ideas are coming straight out of God’s Word. 

Still, Christ tells us to not lose heart in the face of this violent storm that is the nature of these days. Instead, we are to continue to provide a counter narrative to the one with which our world is filled, for Christ desires for His people to stay steadfast in speaking the truth of God’s Word while also loving the people that we encounter. This might be easy to say, but it is not so simple to do. This requires that we be people of patience who stay true to Christ’s calling to be peacemakers in our world and to be agents for redemption in our relationships. We are to continue to proclaim Christ as the only eternal answer to all that is broken, painful, and lost in our world, and we are to refuse to respond to this world’s call to isolate ourselves from people who are different or who might cost us something real to love and to care for. The door to eternity stands open before us as dose the door to Christ’s cross of redemptive sacrifice. Thus, the path to that desired eternal rest leads straight into the teeth of the storm that is our world as our Lord calls upon His people to remain true to serving Him in His strength with all that we have to give. 

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Owe no one anything except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13: 8

The daily news has been shouting at us for quite a while now so that almost everyone is fully aware that there is a “Debt Crisis” in our world. Our governments have entered into obligations that can’t be met with the available resources. Individuals continue to spend money that they don’t have and that they have no real hope of ever seeing. We also incur debt in many other ways, for we make commitments and we enter into relational obligations that we really have very little intention of meeting. As we try to keep pace with our culture we are driving our personal and our societal balance sheets deeper and deeper into the red.

Christ wants us to stop. Stop writing the checks, discontinue the charging, and put a hold on the new commitments. He wants us to step out of the swirling masses that are flocking to the newest and the most exciting of sales events. He tells us to get on our knees and to seek His face in prayerful submission to the wonder and the power of truth. In those moments of quiet meditation God’s Word and His Spirit will speak. When knowing God’s heart is the desired outcome, He will reveal the truth of what is real love. Christ demonstrated it for us every day of His life in this world. God has been relating to people from the perspective of love for all of our history. We are called by God to respond to Him by loving Him with such totality of being that we can do little else except to love other people as Christ does.

This is an ideal, and the life of absolute and total love is not an easy one to accomplish. It wasn’t easy for Jesus in that it required Him to set aside His position and its glory and to sacrifice all to do it; yet, that was what He did in response to God’s expressed desire. God’s expressed desire for me and for you is the same. He wants us to live in the simplicity of righteousness. He tells us to stop entering into agreements that bind our hearts and our minds to impossibly heavy burdens of debt. Christ leads us down a road that takes us into a state of being that transcends this world and its earthly obligations and that brings us into the place where we are dwelling in the perspective of the Father. In God’s economy we are indebted only to Him, and He requires that our payments be made in loving interaction with our world.    

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But let justice roll down like waters, 

   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5: 24

When the prophet Amos looked out upon the world around him, he saw a really troubling and darkened place. There were nations all around that were engaged in various forms of idol worship, violence against their neighbors, and the oppression of the weak. Things did not get any better at home, either. Both Israel in the north and Judah to the south were engaging in similar practices. It seemed as if following God had become an outdated and forgotten aspect of living. The Lord’s provision in the time of the exodus, His victory over the powerful inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and all of the intervening years of care and protection had just been erased from their collective memory. So, God’s heart of loving kindness and desire for justice to rule the day were set aside in favor of doing whatever seemed most profitable at that time.

So, God spoke to and then through people who loved Him and who had continued to remain true to His Word and to its intent. The Lord gave such people a vision for what was to come and for why it would be so. God interrupted the routine of their lives and sent them into the world to speak about the painful reality that would come if repentance were not the response to the message. The Lord also made it clear through these visionary speakers that condemnation and judgement were to be applied universally to all people regardless of nationality, race, or other distinctives. The concepts of mercy, care for the weak, and justice are universal truths that God pours out upon the earth and that all people are required to observe. Amos promised a day of reckoning when everyone would be called to account for how they have lived and for what they have done by way of bringing about peace upon earth or in the propagation of violence and suffering. There were direct and verifiable outcomes for the people that Amos addressed. The events that are called out in the text did come to pass. But I doubt that this is the end of the story. 

God always looks ahead and takes a very long view regarding His interaction with His creation. The events that we read about in these ancient histories have application and purpose in our world and during our days. When the Lord speaks about His heart for justice and the relationship between being a just and living as a righteous people, His message was not directed at the mere thousands that would have heard Amos. He is warning and instructing us regarding what matters to Him. God speaks about people, nations, and a world where justice is the stream that washes away the pain of violence, poverty, and oppression. Christ gives us a picture of a world where wealth and power are tools in the hands of righteous people that are used to bring the needy into places of provision, safety, and respect. God’s perspective on what constitutes need and on who suffers from lack is much broader and wider than mine. His concept of what is wealth and regarding its righteous use is also far superior to the one that I perceive. In response to my lack of understanding today, I pray for Christ to open my eyes and redirect my heart to love justice and to seek to live righteously as a follower of His perfect and eternal will.   

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Titus 2: 11-14

Purification is hard to endure. Most of us do not like it all that much. We may think that we truly want to know God and to be in a relationship with Him through the Son, Jesus Christ, but when the reality of what that means to me is looking me in the face, I am no longer so certain or sure. It is not that I do not love Jesus or believe in the holy God of redemption, it is more that I am not fully committed and so yielded to His will for me and His path for my life in response to that will. So, living as a follower of Christ might seem to be a simple thing until the actual cost of doing this is counted; yet, God does ask me to face reality and to do that very thing. He then asks me to grant the Spirit access to all of the darkened corners of my heart and mind so that every aspect of who and what I have been can be reordered into those of a person who reflects Christ fully in the conduct of my life.

For make no mistake about this fact regarding the world where we live and the age that it is in, we do exist in lawless times. Listen to the dialogue of our day, consider the violence that is present in every corner of the globe, and contemplate how little of the bounty that we possess is being used to care for the millions upon millions of starving and homeless people that are present almost everywhere. This is not a time when the world’s heart is in any way in synch with Christ’s. This world is spinning ever further away from the gospel of grace, love, peace, and redemption that is the center of Jesus’ call and appeal to His followers. As we know Christ, we are to be the people who work to bring about changes in this world. When we listen to the Lord’s voice, He is speaking faith, courage, engagement, and hope to us, and He is saying to us that we are to go out into this world and touch its inhabitants with the healing hand of grace and mercy that is directly attached to Christ’s heart.

The purity that Christ leads us into is not one of separation from the world around us. Rather, it is a form of holiness that seeks to get down into the ragged mess that is life on this planet and that is willing to breathe in the foul air of its most desperate of places in order to hold up the heads of those who are oppressed, defeated, and alone. Christ’s righteousness has no space within it for the categorical rejection of people, and it does not grant to us the right or the authority to make decisions regarding the worthiness or the worth of others. We are to love and to care for all of the people of our world without regard to any consideration beyond that of following Christ and of doing the sorts of things that He did. The good works that we are called to do are real and tangible, they also involve on-going and unceasing prayer, they require sacrifice, and they will bring about personal pain, suffering, and loss. Yet, Christ is committed to providing us with the strength, direction, and courage to go out and to do what He is calling each of us to do. His power and heart for redemption provide the zeal that keeps us going through dark days and hard times as Christ leads His people into the holy work of loving others.     

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present of the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 3: 21-23

It is easy to get caught up in identifying with a person, for the people that make a difference in the way that we see the world are important to us. For similar reasons, it is also possible to identify with systems of thought or philosophies regarding the conduct of life. It is a part of what we are as people to seek out ways to frame in and to define identity by using identifiable and tangible points of reference as our markers for the boundaries of who we have become. There is nothing wrong with doing this unless the person or idea that is so selected becomes our final or ultimate source of both identity and of the wisdom that we are seeking to grasp onto and to follow after. Then, we have stopped short of God’s intent for us, and we have potentially entered into the area of worshiping worldly idols.

There is an order to our world, and it is one that God set out and that He maintains. It often stands is contrast to the worldly structure that we have developed for ourselves and that we often attempt to establish as superior to all other ways of viewing what is right and important in life. It just seems easier, more relatable, or less challenging to grasp onto something that seems to be more closely related to us and to the way that we might think that we would like to see our world and engage with it. However, these worldly views of what it means to live well and to do good are false economies that lead us into settling for less than the great potential that God has established for us, and they can take us far away from the grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness that Christ came into our world to make real and intimately proximal for us.

Christ calls to us to follow Him first just as He follows the will of the Father. When we do this, our allegiance is altered so that God’s view of the world becomes our filter for assessing truth and for determining what is right, just, and loving. At this point in our life’s journey identity, itself, is reframed so that we wish to be known as followers of Christ. There is real freedom to be found in this change in perspective, for it grants to us the ability to stand upon eternal truth as found in God’s Word as the basis for thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that stand against the ways of our world. We can care for others who are outside of the circle of concern that our society has set out, we are opened up to loving people that are viewed as outcast or as threatening by our world, and we are granted immeasurable grace in order to tender forgiveness to those who may have harmed us and to work toward redemption for all that is lost.   

Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

John 20: 21

The presence of the living Christ in our world can be highly disturbing. He asks for a lot, and He isn’t really willing to compromise on the things that He wants from people, ether. So, it almost seems like a paradox that these were the first words He said to His disciples after He left the tomb and appeared among them. Now Christ was certainly wishing for them to be at ease and to realize and understand that the person who stood among them was the same Jesus that they had known and loved and who had loved them over the last few years, but I think that Christ had much more in mind than just that reassurance. He wanted them to embrace the fact that they were called to continue His work of bringing the reconciling love and grace of God to and into the world. So, the disciples were to go out and to bring the essential message of peace between people and God and, thus, that of peace among people in our world.

Jesus knew that bringing peace was never going to be an easy task, for it requires hard work and dedication to the purpose at hand. It is a relentless process, for there is an enormous amount of energy in our world that is dedicated to creating turmoil, separation, and animosity. People tend toward self-protection and fear of others, and these are emotions that run so deep within us as to be almost fundamental to who and to what we are. Our own natures tend toward the troubled, self-protective, and fearful sides of behavior. Still, Christ wants His deep-seated peace to rule our hearts and minds so that we will interact with others with the clear headed inner calm of Christ. When we do this, we can make a difference in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, and that difference will be a tangible expression of Christ’s love.

With this eternal peace well settled on us, we can speak the hard truths of God’s Word and still be heard as compassionate. When we interact with others, the peace in our hearts will help to filter out our human defenses and it will allow a true dialogue to begin. The peace of Christ is something to accept and it is something to diligently seek after, for as humans, we just don’t naturally settle in peaceful places. Yet, in response to our tendency Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” True peace is not something that is created by treaties, by force, or by governments. True peace is the result of individual people who choose to believe Christ and who are willing to set aside their worldly human responses and thinking in order to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunityto transform our hearts and minds into ones that more accurately reflect God’s intent in creation; thus, Christ sends us into our world as committed peace makers. 

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,

   “return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

   and rend your hearts not your garments.”

Return to the LORD your God,

   for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;

   and he relents over disaster.

Joel 2: 12, 13

When people have departed from a relationship with God, His greatest desire is for them to return to Him. In these situations, God is not motivated by a need for power or for control, for those are things that He holds in His hands as a part of the nature of His being. The Lord gains nothing from our obedience to Him except for our companionship, and that is the thing that matters most to Him. God was willing to give everything in order to bring people into close communion with Him; so, that is exactly what He did. Christ’s blood is more than sufficient to cover any of the sinfulness in which we are able to engage, and it is more powerful than all of the drive to roam and to wander that often seems to propel people away from God and out of fellowship with His church.

The Lord enters into thE troubled, painful, and damaged places in our hearts. He brings a form of healing that cannot be found in any other place or through other mediums of restoration. Christ speaks truth into the challenging realities of our lives, and He does so with a clarity that is born out of His intimate knowledge of each of us. God takes the time that is required to truly understand the intricacies of our hearts and the complex processes of our minds so that He can engage with each person in a manner that enters into our lives fully and with a form of love and care that is typically found only in the relationship of parent to child. This is true even when we have attempted to put as much distance between ourselves and the Lord as it is possible to travel. The Lord will continue to seek after people when anyone else would have long before given up the pursuit.

The grace and the mercy that are offered to these wandering souls is fueled by God’s love. This is a love that knows neither limits nor situations or circumstances that inhibit or that defeat it. Christ’s love for each person that would ever be born into life on this earth is so great that even the torturous nature of the cross and humanity’s most strident of attempts to crush it out with ridicule and death could not extinguish it. Christ is calling to all of us who are far apart from our God. He is asking that we open our hearts to His love so that we can accept the grace and the mercy that He is holding out to us as a gift. Redemption, restoration, love, peace, and fellowship are set before us as a banquet feast that has been prepared by the Lord to celebrate the joyous return of those who have been absent from His table. So, for any and all people who have wandered away from the Lord’s presence and have taken themselves out of relationship with Him, Christ is calling, and He speaks out with grace and with love as He says, “Return for you are precious to me.”       

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