Category Archives: Compassion

When the Hurt Wins

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “My heart yearns over the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”

 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.  And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.  And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.  Mark 8:1-9 (mixture of translations)

To me, it’s pretty incredible that Jesus had compassion on this crowd.  It’s hard for me to have empathy for large groups of people.  It’s feels too overwhelming.  It seems to impossible to help them.

If ever there was a good time to read this Bible story about compassion, it’s now.  It’s CRAZY lately! We’re having hurricanes, wildfires, an earthquake.  My stepmother is very ill in the hospital.  A close friend just underwent a tragedy.  (Here’s Irma at my house.)

Yet I confess that I often don’t feel the compassion I should.  I was talking to my aunt earlier in the week.  She called to see if we were okay in the approaching storm.  As I listened to her, I could tell her heart was very heavy.   She was feeling really down about all the hurricanes and wildfires.  It was a heart check for me.  I need to be more like her.

The goal is always to have a soft heart.

And one thing I am learning is that, although some people have the gift of compassion, most of us need to work at softening our hearts.   For me, I tend to get intent on my life, and what I need to do.  I might even be intent on the way I need to serve others.  But when I do so, it’s like I have blinders on and I don’t see anything else.  The needs around me don’t make a great impression on me.blinders1

So how do we soften our hearts to be more like Jesus?  First, we need to try to see things from their perspective.  Jesus said, “if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

Jesus really looked at what it was like for them.  He saw they faced a long hungry journey home. In the same way, we need to constantly ask ourselves, “What are they going through?  What does it feel like?”

Second, we try to relate.  As I thought about those whose houses had been flooded in Hurricane Harvey, I remembered when my house was hit by an ice storm and we were without power for several days.  I had to made accommodations to live and sleep elsewhere.  I was homeless, just as they are.  This made me more motivated to help the hurricane victims.

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The fallout from the ice storm, many branches down in our yard.

What will help in relating is admitting just how needy we, ourselves, are, on a daily basis.  When we are in touch with our own desperation, we can connect to the desperation of others.  Our prayer time with God needs to be real.  We need to lower the barricades and and pour out our hearts to Him.

Third,  we need to put a face to it.  The news and social media are great for this.  When we see the individuals, we care more.

This week I’m reading a book that is in part about the boat people who fled Vietnam after the war there.  It was a terrible situation, and many lost their lives.

boat people4

One American man saw a picture in the paper of the face of one of the boat people.  Maybe something like this —

Boat people

That man happened to be the president of World Vision.  The face he saw motivated him so much that he put in a great deal of effort and fought for six months against many odds to expand World Vision to start caring for the boat people.  They were able to save many lives.

Will we look at the faces?  Will we see the person behind the face, and let it motivate us?

Because here’s the thing.  We’re all brothers.  That is why Jesus made the effort to help the crowd.

I love what Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Have we forgotten, or do we remember?  Do we remember that the second most important commandment is to love your brother as yourself?  Do we remember that, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it?”  (I Cor 12:26a)

Do we feel kinship, or do we feel apart from the rest, like they’re not our tribe, or like we’re better than them in some way?  In the book I mentioned in my last blog, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle wrote, “”Often we strike the high moral distance the separates ‘us’ from ‘them,’ and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us . . . Jesus was not a ‘man for others’; he was one with them.”

Jesus was one with others.  It is God’s dream come true that we live this out as well.

But now I’m back at the place I started.  I want to have a softer heart.  I’m working on it. But it’s still too overwhelming!  There are too many people, and too many needs.

Last night I watched a well done documentary about missionaries to New Guinea.

What really inspired me was what the missionaries in the field said were the qualifications  for being a missionary there.  It wasn’t being a Bible scholar or an eloquent speaker or having some special gift.  It was having a willingness to go and do what they could.

And that is what I see in the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000.  Jesus wasn’t paralyzed by the great number and the great need.  He was willing to do what he could.

Are we willing to do something, even if it seems like we only have a “few loaves and a few small fish?”

I guess the question is not, “Can God use me to meet this need?”  But it’s, “How can I not put myself out there to be used to meet this need?”

In Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle tells the story of a mother who lost two of her grown children to gang violence.  It absolutely tore her up.  And then she had heart attack symptoms and found herself in an emergency room bed next to a rival gang member who had been shot.  The medical staff was frantically trying to save this guy, and as she looked over, she realized it was probably someone who had killed one of her sons.  At that point she had a battle going on inside.  She could wish he would die or pray for him to live.  She found herself crying as never before and fervently begging God to save his life.  Why?  Because she realized didn’t want his mother to go through what she went through.  “The hurt wins,” she explained.

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We have to find a way to let the hurt win.  We must soften our hearts enough so that the pain of the need motivates us more than the other things that pull at us.

That is having the heart of Jesus.  That is why we put ourselves out there even when it seems overwhelming.

And when we are moved to put ourselves out there with what little we can do, God takes over and does amazing things, just as he multiplied the loaves and the fish.  I believe it.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  II Cor 8:12

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The Path to a Tender Heart

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While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  Mark 14:3-9

What an interesting place for this story.  Jesus just finished discussing all of the terrible things that would happen in the future.  And then a woman poured expensive perfume all over him.  The talk of ugliness is juxtaposed with an act of beauty.

I think the two are related.  But the first thing all of this makes me wonder is why Jesus said there had to be so many hard times.  Why does the path to his glorious return have to be paved with trials?

I guess the real question here is why do we have to go through so many trials and disappointments?  I’ve been reading a great book lately, “Grand Weaver” by Ravi Zacharias.  In in Zacharias shows us eloquently how God has a design behind each one of our lives, and that we can trust the process.  This is one of my favorite passages so far:

“…at the end of your life one of three things will happen to your heart: it will grow hard, it will be broken, or it will be tender.  Nobody escapes.  Your heart will become coarse and desensitized, be crushed under the weight of disappointment, or be made tender by that which makes the heart of God tender as well.”

Reading this really impacted my life.  Because it made me see that I harden my heart when things hurt me, instead of letting the circumstances soften my heart.

On Dec. 22, 1998, my mother passed away unexpectedly.

My mom.  She loved to take videos of her loved ones.

My mom. She loved to take videos of her loved ones.

Ever since that time, I won’t let myself think of my mom, or that time.  I close myself off.

And I never could understand why my mother had to die.  Other people might say they found something good in their tragedy.  Not me.  I just want my mom back, want her to see how beautifully her grandchildren are growing, want her to experience milestones with me.  I’ve never stopped missing her.  I couldn’t see what good there could be in her not being here.

But now I can see something else.  I can see that there is benefit in experiencing emotional pain. The pain that I carry around in my heart helps me to treasure the relationships I have more.  It compels me to reach out and touch others in distress.  It makes me feel compassionate towards others in their troubles.

It helps me understand the cross more.

God has a plan for all of us to create more tender hearts in all of us.

That is why the story of the woman above is more meaningful.  I can’t help but think that the woman would not have been so generous unless her heart had been made tender by heartbreak in the past.  Her life had been a journey up to that point, and her inner pain welled up and caused her to pour herself out in sacrificial giving to Jesus.

The word Jesus used to describe the woman’s act is kalós, which means “attractively good; good that inspires (motivates) others to embrace what is lovely (beautiful, praiseworthy).”

The beautiful act of service performed by this woman would inspire others through the ages to perform beautiful acts of service as well.

And that is what I want to leave you with this Thanksgiving week.  I charge you to serve in gratitude, because you have Jesus, a place of succor, when you are poor in spirit.

Has life been painful?  Don’t shut yourself off to the pain.  Experience it, weep over it, and then let it well up in you and compel you to reach out to others, and pour yourself out on their behalf.

There is ugliness in the world, but it can create beauty.

And that is God’s design.

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Filed under Compassion, Mark, Servanthood, Things I Am Learning

Just Get On Board!

Yeah, it's a stock picture, but it's perfect!

Yeah, it’s a stock picture, but it’s perfect!

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said,  I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”  Mark 8:1-3

Jesus must have been tired at this time.  Large crowds were with him every day.  It was really not what he intended, for large groups of people always be with him.  He kept leaving and going to other locations.  He’d tried earlier to take his disciples some place quiet to get rest, but the crowd followed him there.  He went to Tyre and didn’t want anyone to know where he was.

So here he is again, surrounded by people, surrounded by needs, for three days.  These people don’t even seem to have much sense.  They’ve gone out to Jesus without giving thought to what this would entail.  They don’t plan ahead or provide for their own needs. It’s like they see Jesus and lose their heads.  I really want to think less of them for being foolish.

I have a problem sometimes thinking people are foolish.  So arrogant.

But Jesus had compassion and met their needs anyway.  Oh man, that means I need to have compassion on those who are foolish, those who have made poor choices with their lives.  Of course I’ve made a lot of poor choices too, but I can be blind to that.

Jesus sacrificed and kept on giving to the people WITHOUT resentment.

He just took the train God put in front of him  and rode it.  It’s like he said as recorded by John, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”  John 5:19

And that’s what I want to do when things get busy, when I feel overwhelmed.  I want to get on board and ride the train God puts in front of me with a good attitude.

I want to ride the train with TRUST.  God gave me that train for a reason.

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”   “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.  “Seven,” they replied.  He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so.  They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Mark 8:4-7

Jesus didn’t worry about HOW he was going to ride the train, he just went forward and believed God would provide.    Only seven loaves for four thousand men?  No problem, start handing it out.  Only a few fish?  Thank God for what we have, and keep on going.

The same is true for us.  Only 24 hours in the day?  Only so much energy?  More needs that resources?  No problem.  Just go forward, ride the train God has given, and believe God will provide.

And more importantly, it’s vital to THANK GOD for the little fish we DO have.  Somehow, as Ann Voscamps writes in “One Thousand Gifts,” the thanks always precedes the miracle.  Instead of focusing on the gargantuan thing that needs to be done, focus on the thing God has given us, and thank Him.  We think we need something BIG to tackle our day.  But God knows what we need, and He’s given it to us.  We just need something small, IN CONJUNCTION WITH GOD.

Here’s what happened after Jesus fed the people —

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”  Mark 8:11-12

What irony this is.  Jesus has just performed a major miracle, and then he goes across the water to another place, and the Pharisees demand a sign.  Jesus has already given them all kinds of signs.  They just can’t see them.

It’s good for me to read, because I realize I ALWAYS want another sign.  Jesus has taken care of me, taken care of my kids, taken care of my marriage, taken care of our church.  I could name countless ways he has helped us go forward.

But then, when I’m faced with a new challenge, I get morose.  I get anxious.  “Show me a sign of your goodness, your willingness to act,” I beg. “I feel surrounded by failure.”  But he’s already given me a thousand signs.

That’s why it’s so important to give thanks every day.  In thanking, I manifest the signs.  I remember how God has acted.

Thanking helps to trust the train.  Because many days the train seems scary.  I don’t like it.  It’s hard.  It makes me mad.  I want to choose my own train to ride instead!

But the train of God’s will always takes us to the place we need to go.

Tomorrow in church we’re singing a song that Ken and I have been wanting to do,  an old classic by Curtis Mayfield, “People Get Ready.”

Here is the theme of the song —

People get ready there’s a train comin’
You don’t need no baggage, just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
You don’t need no ticket, just thank the lord

What does the song say?  Just get on board!  Don’t get weighed down with baggage — with fears, past hurts, selfish desires, and so on.  God gave you a train today.  Get on and ride, and trust that He will provide.

What’s the ticket to get on?  Thankfulness.  Thank God for the “little” we have.  When we ride with Him, it will be more than enough.

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Filed under Compassion, Faith, Gratitude, Mark

Amazing Kindness

Rather, love your enemies, help them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then you will have a great reward. You will be the children of the Most High God. After all, he is kind to unthankful and evil people. Be merciful as your Father is merciful.  Luke 6:35

God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

That is amazing.

When we treat “undeserving” people with kindness, THAT defines us as children of the Most High God.

The word for kind is chrestos — meaning kind AND useful.  There is no parallel in our language — no word that means you are kind and you are good at the same time.

So God isn’t just kind, his kindness is GOODNESS.  And when we are nice to those who aren’t going to be nice back — who are secretly thinking ugly things, who sneer, who are shallow, who only care about themselves or worldly pursuits — then we exemplify the goodness of God.

And more than this, the word for ungrateful is acharistos, meaning the exact opposite of charis, which is grace.  A person who displays charis extends favor to others, and freely forgives them.  The word denotes thankfulness.  So the person who is acharistos is the person who can’t give grace or favor to others, who is so caught up in bitterness that they cannot forgive, they cannot be thankful.

Such a person isn’t just ungrateful, they can’t see a way to be grateful, they can’t see a way to extend kindness.  Really, they can’t UNDERSTAND goodness, they have no point of reference.

It reminds me of a question I saw that someone posed to John Oakes: “How do we know God loves us when we don’t see that love, in fact we see our loved ones dying, and doors being closed?”

My answer to this question would be that God IS showing His love to them in numerous ways, every day, but they are missing it.  He gives us family and friends.  He takes care of our needs.  He surrounds us with beauty.  He allows us to know and worship Him.  All these things are evidence of His tender constant love.

So in being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, God is giving to those who, in a sense, spit in the face of His love and attention.   It’s like this passage in Ezekiel 16 —

On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths.  No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.  “But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’

I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. . . . So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour.

But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.

We have nice things.  We have good food.  For those of us who are disciples, God reached out and made us His children.

Really, we are the ungrateful and the wicked as well.  Do we really see?  Are we really appreciative for all the God does for us?  Do we love Him with all our heart, or other things as well?

Jesus goes on to say in Luke 6, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.  Stop judging, and you will never be judged.”

When we realize God’s kind and good nature, how can we not be merciful to those around us?  Why would we point a finger at them and say they are wicked, when we realize how blind we can be, and how undeserving we are of His ministrations?

This morning, I am struggling because my feelings are very hurt.  Doing this study is like balm to my wounds.  How can I be so upset with this person and their supposed fault in what they did?  How can I not remember God’s gracious goodness to me?

It is as Ezekiel 16 concludes:

Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Compassion

Great is His Compassion

My sweet kitty -- out of suffering

My sweet kitty — out of suffering

So much has happened lately.

I had my cat put to sleep last week. It was really hard. I stroked her head as she went through the final indignity of being held down and getting the injections in her shaved leg.  The house seems empty without her.

We had two wonderful encouraging baptisms yesterday.  One of our good friends got married, and we watched the wedding over the Internet.

And there have been tragedies.  Close family members have a family member in the hospital.  One of those in our house church is out of town with her grandmother who had a mild heart attack.  I got the news last night that a brother who led a nearby sister church passed away unexpectedly.  I saw on Facebook this morning that the grandchild of someone who is loved by many of us is not doing well in the hospital.

It is so fitting that I have been studying out compassion.

Here is some of what I’ve read –

Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!”  And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  Ex 33:17-19

 And he (the Lord) passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.   Ex 34:6

Part of the unapproachable holy glory of God is His compassion. It is one of the factors that make Him so awesome.

Look at how Ps 103 describes this —

Praise the Lord, my soul;

all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul,

and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins

and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit

and crowns you with love and compassion,

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

All of these things listed that we should praise the Lord for – forgiveness, healing, redemption, blessings — stem from His compassion. We should magnify the Lord with EVERYTHING IN US because His nature is divinely gracious, caring and merciful.

I see great examples of compassion all around me . I saw a post on the “People of New York” about one woman who got hooked on heroin, and can’t kick the habit. Hundreds of random people cared enough to comment and tell her to hang in there, that she could do it.

Our friend Jack wrote to the man who is going through the acute illness of his grandchild: “Our hearts are with you as you and your family endure trials and sickness. . . I have not walked in the challenges that are upon you, and you have lots of close friends; we all with one heart are on our knees thanking God for you and your family and asking Him to care for you. You are precious to God. We pray and we weep with you in your sorrows & trials . . .”

This is compassion – a heart that is deeply moved by the challenges of another, that is WITH THEM in grief and sorrow.  God created us to be a people who would resonate with one another.  We were never made to be a people unto our self.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.  Lam 3:22

By His mercies I have every benefit of my life — the breaths I take, my health, my redemption, a bounty of good things.  Out of His perpetual mercy He gives, and gives.

And as that wells up in me, I slow down, take a deep breath, and take time to feel what others are feeling.  I try to continue to the chain God started.

Life is to be shared.

Our new sister and brother

Our new sister and brother

wedding

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Compassion, Grace