Tag Archives: God’s grace

The Knowledge of God: We Shall Know!

 

We Shall Know!

What to know about God?

What does God want us to know about Himself?  What does up close and personal look like?  God wants us to know truth.  About Himself, who He is, and truth concerning His plan for our life.  Knowledge of truth is enlightenment.  That is the reason it is important to practice spiritual disciplines: to draw near to hear the revealed truths of God (2 Cor. 4:6).

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians outlines what knowing God looks like:

So, we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. (Col. 1:9-10, NLT)

What does knowing God look like?  Knowledge of Him, wisdom, understanding, and spiritual growth (maturity).  And armed with these things, what will be the results?  A life that honors and pleases God and produces “good fruit.” We must remember that God has created us for “good works” (Eph. 2:10) and has spiritually invested in our lives.

In addition, through knowledge of Him and His truth, we will be strengthened with power that will increase our spiritual endurance, joy, and perseverance (Col.1:11).    Armed with God’s knowledge, is there anything we cannot do?  Are there any challenges we cannot overcome?

How will we know if we know?

Knowledge of God in the Old Testament was expressed through mediators and agreements that acknowledged what was expected by each party.  Such was the case with the various covenants God entered into with Israel (Isa. 1:2; Deut. 11:1-25).  Included in those covenants were expectations on how those entering into agreement with God were to live.

In the New Testament, knowledge of God became more personal.  No longer would God use mediators or special agreements.  It was Christ who would make God known to man (John 1:18).  Knowing God was no longer an intellectual exercise or contractual agreement, but an individual response of faith and acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior.  

Biblically to know God is not to know about him in an abstract and impersonal manner, but rather to enter into his saving actions.  To know God is not to “struggle philosophically” with his eternal essence, but rather to recognize and accept his claims. It is not some mystical contemplation, but dutiful obedience.

We shall know fully.

Besides practice of spiritual disciplines, another way to grow in our knowledge of God is to fellowship with other believers who can share their personal experiences with the Lord.  As we grow, we are to reveal our testimonies with others, so they can come to know God as well.

For now, our knowledge of God is limited. “Perfect” knowledge of God is reserved for us in eternity future (1 Cor. 13:12).  God has, however, revealed what we need to know through Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

The believer’s knowledge of God in Jesus Christ is only provisional. It is sufficient for recognizing and trusting the object of faith (John 17:3; Rom. 10:9). Without answering all our questions, it provides an adequate light for the journeyer in this darkened world (2 Pet. 1:19). But this knowledge is only a foretaste of knowing God “face to face” in the hereafter, when the day dawns and the morning star arises in our hearts (2 Pet. 1:19)[1].

What has been revealed to date is more than enough to garner our trust and our allegiance.

[1] EDBT, Timothy R. Phillips.

Advent Revisited: A Psalm for Advent

 

A Psalm for Advent

A Time to remember

One of the things I love to do during the holiday season is to find a quiet place in the house and reminisce on how my family prepared for Christmas.    After Thanksgiving, we would receive the “Sears and Roebuck” Christmas catalog.  We called it “the dream book.” Now Christmas displays begin to appear before Halloween.

As believers, we have the liturgical calendar to help us “mark” the different aspects of this most holy season.  It begins with Advent and the practice of waiting.  It culminates with Christmas, a time of celebrating the arrival of our Savior, Jesus the Christ.

This Advent, I invite you to join us as we reminisce and revisit Advents of the past through our WordBytes devotion.  We have chosen three (3) of our most popular Advent WordBytes from past years.  We hope they will fill your hearts with hope, peace, joy, and love.

“A PSALM FOR ADVENT”

Keep Hope Alive: Hope that Won’t Disappoint

Hope that Doesn't Disappoint

Experiencing real hope

Last week we concluded our teaching, with the secret to experiencing “real hope” in our lives.  

It is important that we are intentional in claiming what Christ has already obtained for us through His sacrificial death and powerful resurrection.  We know that as believers in Christ we live continually in the presence of God who is the great I AM.  It is God who provides us with what we need for the challenges we face (Isa. 43:2). 

We recognize and acknowledge that God alone is the true source of our hope and salvation (Psa. 62:5-12).

Hope that is true

Ultimately, the question of what the world should places hope on is a complex one. There is no easy answer, and different people will have different beliefs.

We hope that technological advances will solve many of our problems, such as climate change, disease, and poverty. We also place our hope on human ingenuity, believing that humans have the ability to solve any problem they set their minds to. Those with gentler dispositions hold on to the hope that the world’s problems will be solved through love and compassion.

How does God’s hope compare with that which this world offers?  Is God’s offer of hope better?

The cluster of attributes (of God) which we classify as “integrity” relates to the matter of truth.  There are three dimensions of God’s truthfulness: (1) genuineness—being true—”He is what He appears to be” (Isa. 45:5-6); (2) veracity—telling the truth (1 John 5:20) — “He tells the truth” (John 17:17, 19); and (3) faithfulness— “He proves true” (Num. 23:19).[1]    

As believers, our hope rests fully on the integrity of God—His genuineness, His veracity, and His faithfulness.

Hope that does not disappoint

Through Jesus sacrificial gift of life, we have a hope that “does not” and “will not” disappoint.

Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  (Rom. 5:1-5)  

The Holy Spirit reassures us of God’s love.  This provides us with a steadfast foundation for hope. This love is unconditional and everlasting, providing security and assurance even in the face of trials and tribulations. (Heb. 6:17-19)

Hope kept alive

How do we keep hope alive?  Not by might, nor by power, nor by strength (Zech. 4:6).  Not by the wisdom of man nor the understanding of scholars (1 Cor. 1:27-29).  These offerings of hope are temporary and subject to change—change brought about by the reality of time and the ultimate demise of life as we know it (2 Cor. 4:18).

But we keep hope alive through the Spirit of wisdom and revelation of the knowledge of God (Eph. 1:17).   Armed with this we have access not only to life on this side of heaven but also throughout eternity.  Through the love and grace of God, we can keep hope alive.  May we forever rest and abound in the God of hope.

Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  (1 Pet. 1:13).

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology.

 

In Search of Peace: When will we find it?

In Search of Peace: When will we find it?

We seek peace.

What peace are we seeking and when will we find it?  Because of God’s grace and mercy, we experience various degrees of peace even in this fallen world.  We are no longer in enmity with God because of Jesus’ gift of life (2 Cor. 5:18).  We on occasion see glimpses of peace between nations and groups divided because of preference, politics, or social agendas.  However, even that peace is tenuous and subject to change with the next difference of opinion.

The search for peace is a pursuit that will continue until we transition to eternity.  So why are we trying so hard to achieve it now?  Because it is God’s desire that we live in peace with each other and experience peace within.  Without peace we will be hindered from accomplishing our divine purpose which includes glorifying God.

Peace was God’s First Choice

When God and man lived in the Garden of Eden, their world was designed to accomplish a specific purpose.  God would provide for His creation—food, clothing, shelter.  Man in turn would be obedient to his Creator and reverence God.  They would enjoy an intimate and harmonious relationship. There was peace.   Of course, we know what happened to the plan of creation.

Although many attempts have been made through the institution of covenants and laws, man has always been troubled with contention, strife, and war (Hab. 1:3; James 4:1; Rom. 2:8).  The biblical text relates attempts by God’s prophets and priests to bring peace, but none could be found—externally nor within.

Only Jesus Christ, the Promised Messiah, could bring the “peace” that would reverse the ravages of sin that resulted in broken relationships and shattered hearts (Isa. 9:6-7; Mic. 5:4-5).

Peace is a hard issue.

Early in our study we defined peace as a stress-free state of security and calmness, everything co-existing in perfect harmony and freedom.  Let’s be real.  Man cannot orchestrate this kind of peace while we live in this fallen world.   And this is the world we must live in right now.   The peace described in this definition will be possible when Jesus Christ returns and rules physically during the Millennial Age.

However, right now God’s peace is guaranteed by His unchanging promises and can be found through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is possible spiritually through the Holy Spirit living within us. The Holy Spirit fortifies us as we live in this fallen world.  He sustains us even in the most desperate of circumstances (Gal. 5:22).

Peace that passes all understanding.

The Apostle Paul, while imprisoned in Rome, appealed to the church in Phillipi, to “rejoice in the Lord”.  Strange message considering Paul’s situation.  But while experiencing the backlash of living in a fallen world, he found peace in his situation.  He offered the same to them (Phil. 4:6-7, NLT).

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Chrysostom, Eastern church father and archbishop of Constantinople wrote these words on “how this peace—God’s peace—passes all understanding”.

The peace of God, which He imparts to us, passes all understanding. For who could have expected and who could have hoped for such benefits? It transcends every human intellect and all speech. For His enemies, for those who hate Him, for the apostates—for all these He did not refuse to give his only begotten Son, so as to make peace with them. The peace which will preserve us is the one of which Christ says, “My peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.”  For this peace passes all human understanding. How? When He sees that we should be at peace with enemies, with the unrighteous, with those who display contentiousness and hostility toward us, how does this not pass human understanding?[1]

God’s peace is what we need for 21st century living.  Peace that will not only exceed our expectations but also guard our hearts and minds, from fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair.  Our “call to action” as believers is to, like Jesus’ Disciples and the Apostle Paul, become agents of peace and ministers of reconciliation to a “peaceless” world.  In the world’s search for peace, let us be the light to show them where they can find it (Matt. 5:9).

[1]  Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, New Testament VIII, Mark J. Edwards

Peacemaking 2023

Revisiting the past

A few years ago, WordBytes featured a series on the Beatitudes (Matt. 5: 1-12).  One of our teachings in that series dealt specifically with “peacemakers”.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.”  Matt. 5:9 (NRS)

I returned to this teaching today as a result of several events that have occurred this week.  The first was a Facebook post from a college classmate.  Although I’m not a close follower of Facebook, when I received the following invitation to “check it out”, I was moved and challenged.

I am tired.  There is too much hate and too many who want to keep hate going!!!!  Breaking News:  In these difficult times, we all need to show our love to one another.  I am challenging at least 20 of my friends to comment, “Love ya”, and them put this on your status and see who actually says Love ya! 

I’m not going to share the results but, in my mind, my classmate is a peacemaker.  What role do we each play as peacemakers?  How willing are we to callout bad behavior and redirect people to what Jesus taught?  Did Jesus mean what He said?  Absolutely!  He wasn’t talking just to hear Himself!

Another story of peacemaking

This morning this news banner came across my phone: “Congress tries to break fever of incivility amid string of vulgar, toxic exchanges”.  

They live a mile apart in Columbus, Ohio. And they shop in the same produce aisle at the same grocery store. US Reps Mike Carey a Republican and Joyce Beatty, a Democrat, often bump into each other at the airport and see each other all over the neighborhood.  Over glasses of orange juice and ice water in May, they even talk about the importance of being seen together at work, talking, and planning. Carey and Beatty have formed a Congressional Civility Caucus, seeking to inspire a more civil discourse between the two parties.[1]   

These two individuals could be poster children for what peacemaking looks like.  How do you think “the world” will view their actions?  Do a Google search on “civility in Congress” and see the various articles written about this topic.  There are as many against civility efforts as in favor of it.  Sad so sad!  How can there be peace if there are no peacemakers?

What does a peacemaker look like?

Peacemakers are intentional in creating opportunities that mirror God’s heart of peace in the world. They look for opportunities to both prevent potential conflicts and encourage peaceful relationships even if it means personal sacrifice and self-deference (1 Cor. 9:22).

They understand that peace is not the result of external factors or human effort but is the internal “heart work” of the Holy Spirit, who is daily conforming believers to the image of Christ, the Ultimate Peacemaker (Rom. 8:29).  Peacemaking finds genesis in the heart of God.

The need for peacemaking

For wherever there is jealousy or selfish ambition, there will be disorder and every other kind of evil (James 3:16, TLB)

Wherever there is strife and envy, you can betcha that Satan is the puppeteer behind the screen.   That strife can exist between strangers, friends, church members, or yes, even family.  This week in an article entitled, “Why So Many Young People Are Cutting Off Their Parents”, Karl Pillemer, a professor at Cornell University, found that 27% of Americans over the age of 18 were estranged from a family member.  Scary huh?

Children of God are Peacemakers.

The peace that Jesus speaks to in this Beatitude is not a “natural” habit or disposition of man. This peace is imparted to us during the process of salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).  Practicing peacemaking is not easy in the natural or our flesh.  Yet it is more than possible in the Spirit (Gal. 522).

What adjective do people use to describe us?  Are we portrayed as bridge builders or wrecking balls?   Do people see us as encouragers or dream crushers?  As silly as this exercise may seem, it is important that the world sees us as God’s peacemakers.

[1] CBS News

With Eternity in Mind: Eternal Life

Eternal Life

 

Divinely Bestowed

Last week we defined eternal or everlasting life as the divinely bestowed gift of blessedness in God’s presence that endures without end.   It is noteworthy to see that eternal life is something that is gifted by God alone.

Eternal life is a “divinely bestowed gift” (John 3:16). It is not something we can earn, mandate nor make happen.  It is a gift of God.  Imagine if man could wield that kind of power.  We catch a glimpse of the desire to live forever “on this side” by our continual search for ways to reverse the effects of aging or increase the number of our days.

Man is not equipped to bestow eternal life.  He is limited by time.  Only God currently lives and operates in both time and eternity (past, present, future). God alone is able through His divine attributes of goodness—His love, grace, and benevolence—to offer the extraordinary and irreversible gift of eternal life.

Divine Presence

Eternal life is about our relationship with God.  This relationship is built on the knowledge of who God is and what Jesus accomplished with His sacrificial death.  We are not only reconciled with the Father (Rom. 5:10) BUT ALSO enjoy Jesus’ divine presence through His Holy Spirit (John 16:13).  Acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, begins eternal life.

Eternal life is lived out through our recognition and acknowledgment of God’s presence.  God’s presence provides for us the confidence we need to navigate through the challenges of living in this fallen world.

The Apostle Paul expresses this thought in his letter to faithful believers in 2 Peter 1:2-5.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Equipped with God’s divine nature and operating continuously in His presence, we are able to navigate the challenges of 21st century living.  “The life-giving knowledge of the Father and the Son is a true, personal knowledge, not just an academic awareness.”[1]

Divine Time

We often limit eternal life to life after death.  We also mistakenly view eternal life as simply an unending progression of years.  It is much more.   Eternal life can function outside of and beyond time, as well as within time. For this reason, eternal life can be thought of as something that Christians experience now.

We don’t have to wait for eternal life, because it is not something that starts only when we die.  Eternal life begins the moment we exercise faith in Christ.

Jesus made this clear during his ministry.  In the book of John, several indications of the “present and now” reality of eternal life is clear.

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”  John 3:36

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” John 5:24

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” John 6:47

We have eternal life because of our current position in Jesus Christ and therefore, we can experience it now.

God’s presence that endures without end

A common New Testament word for eternal is aionios.  We’ve addressed its relationship to the quality of life in this age.  But it also addresses both the quality and duration of life in the age to come. 

This duration cannot be compared with the limits of time we currently operate within.  But our future eternal life will be the culmination of our existence.  It is in future eternity that we will experience the full measure of God’s glory (Rev. 5:13) and the benefits of our resurrected body.

Next week we will spend time exploring eternity—time without end, specifically, the myths, lies, and misunderstandings about eternity.

[1] Got Questions

Compassion: A Movement of the Heart

Compassion: A Movement of the Heart

Motivation for compassion

Throughout this series we have focused on compassion:  its definition, its motivation, and its costs.  We defined compassion as a willingness to relieve the suffering of another.  Compassion is generally motivated by an individual’s awareness of suffering and the effort it would take to relieve it.  Included in that assessment is the costs to become engaged in extending compassion.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan helped us visualize the different factors that impacted the extension of compassion.

How can I develop compassion?

There are various teachings in psychology and sociology that suggest that there are ways individuals can increase their compassion IQ.

One school of thought is that compassion is natural and it comes in the “flow of life”.  We have compassion for our friends who experience loss or groups of people who experience displacement due to a natural catastrophe.  “Feelings of compassion don’t need to be forced,” they say. Simply open your heart, let yourself be moved, and let compassion flow through.” They also recommend activities each day to “open oneself” to compassion’s flow.

However, as followers of Christ, we believe compassion is achieved by more than an intellectual assessment, the natural flow of life, or exercises we can practice. For believers, our display of compassion is motivated by something greater.

A meeting of the hearts

Brené Brown in her book, Atlas of the Heart, describes compassion this way.

Compassion is the daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness and we take action in the face of suffering.  Compassion is a “virtuous response that seeks to address the suffering and needs of a person through relational understanding and action.”

In her description, Brené captures the connecting link between us and those we see suffering.  It is our humanity.  It is important that we continually acknowledge the “humanity factor” and the fact that we each are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and therefore, are to be treated with both love and respect.  It is our humanity that extends beyond our intellectual lens of who are deserving of our mercy and kindness (Micah 6:8).

Compassion is a spiritual response.

The previous sources of compassion where intellectually derived.  In contrast, God’s compassion is spiritually based.  Can a non-Christian show compassion?  Of course.  The difference is the motivation that leads to their act of mercy and kindness.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the first two travelers’ motivation to intercede was influenced by their flesh.  Their final choice was based on what best satisfied their “flesh”:  self-comfort, self-preservation, and self-importance.

The Good Samaritan, on the other hand, saw the need, and then resolved to help because he looked with “spiritual eyes”.  He looked at the man and saw his humanity.  Like himself, the beaten traveler was in the image of God and deserving mercy.  Setting his fleshly responses aside, the Samaritan then showed him compassion.

Are we ready to show compassion?

Compassion for the believer is motivated by two things: our identity in Christ, and our relationship with God.  Our spiritual position demands a “different response” to the situations and circumstances we experience in this “fallen world.”

To increase our compassion IQ, I recommend we become more like Jesus. Jesus’ compassion was extended to the helpless crowds (Matt. 9:36), the sickly masses (Matt. 14:24), the hungry people (Mark 8:2), and to all in need of “love and mercy” (Isa. 61:1-3).

The true center of Christian living is that we be extensions of Jesus to those in need.  These needs can be social, political, or financial.  They can be resolved through advocacy, philanthropy, sponsorship, or personal involvement.  Jesus’ compassion still flows to and through us today. As the elect of God, holy and beloved, we are to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and longsuffering (Col. 3:12).

Dear Jesus,

Help me to daily see the humanity in others.  Let me not be moved by my head but by my heart.  As You saw and were “moved with compassion”, let me be moved by love and bowels of mercy.  Help me be your hands and help those whom You send into my life.

Am I Compassionate?

 

Am I compassionate?

Ask me a question…I’ll tell you no lie.

This series on compassion was inspired by a question someone asked me.  “Do you think I’m compassionate?”  My first thought was, “why are you asking me this question?” Had I bored them with sharing the rigors of my last six-months including the death of my only sister?  Had they been overwhelmed with the traumatic events rehearsed continually on the evening news and social media?

I didn’t have an answer.   However, I thought it admirable that they cared enough to ask the question.

Do you think I’m compassionate?

That’s a good question to ask especially in this age when we’re often told to “suck-it-up and keep it moving’.  We daily are traumatized and stressed by events of our world.  We are awakened each morning with updates of the war in at least 2-3 countries, at least two “natural disasters” (one international and one nationally), and let’s not forget the threats “seen and unseen” (Psa. 91:5-6).  Perhaps these fears are the reason we emotionally “tune out” what’s happening to us in order to protect ourselves.  Why do we “shut down”?

Recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology is this insight about why people resist experiencing compassion for others, despite it being a generally positive feeling.

More people are finding it increasingly difficult to engage with each other, and as people are overwhelmed with the amount of suffering right now due to the pandemic, it may make compassion particularly difficult. 

The cost of caring

Without a doubt, showing compassion costs.  The cost is expressed in both emotional commitment and physical engagement.  The characters in the Parable of the Good Samaritan considered the cost.  This would include their understanding of the situation which would determine their engagement.  They would then consider the effort it would take to resolve the problem.  A little or a great deal?

The priest “saw the traveler and moved to the other side.” The priest evaluated the situation.  He probably thought the man was dead.  What would he do with a dead man on the road? Bury him?  Take him with him?  He didn’t even know him.  Too much work!   He also knew that involvement with a dead person would make him ceremonially “unclean” (Num. 9:7).  The uncleanness would last for at least seven days, until he could be purified again. He wouldn’t be able to conduct his duties at the temple.  He had to protect his job.  Based on the effort and his understanding of the situation, he left the man on the road. Do his responses sound like ours when we see someone in need?

The Levite “came and looked”.  He saw that the traveler wasn’t dead, so why didn’t he help?  The text doesn’t say, and we choose not to speculate.  Regardless, the result was the same as with the priest, the Levite “passed by the other side.”

What would we have done in this situation?  Hindsight is 20/20.  We know the back drop for the parable and how the story ends.  But in 2023, when we are faced with pain and suffering, do we also “pass to the other side”?  Do we need to understand all the details and effort required before we engage in others pain?

Compassion—a mental or spiritual challenge

Why was the response by the Samaritan different than the priest and the Levite?  What was the principle Jesus was attempting to share with the lawyer (Luke 10:25-29) and also to us living in 2023?  We are to show mercy and compassion, like the Samaritan.

The word compassion in the Luke 10 passage is used almost exclusively to describe Jesus’ response in the Gospel accounts.  It is a verb (action word) showing the deepest level of compassion (Luke 7:13).  It means to have the bowels yearn. When Jesus’ compassionate response was described in this way, the occasion was often the turning point in someone’s life (Mark 1:40-42; Matt 9:33-38)

Called to be compassionate

While there are mental processes that we use to engage in compassion, we must focus our responses on that which God expects.  God expects us to show compassion to those He places in our path and sphere of influence.  Jesus expects us to act like the Samaritan and “show mercy” (Luke 10:37).

God calls each of us to have compassion for others. That call is more than an appeal for us to “feel pity for the needy”.  It is a call to care enough to become involved.  Like Jesus’ compassion, we are expected to take action that will set others’ lives on a fresh, new course.

God’s Compassion: A Study in Contrast

God's Compassion: A Study in Contrast

Our Emotional Response (ER)

Last week, we described compassion as a willingness to relieve the suffering of another.  With that definition we introduced a series of emotional responses (ERs) to the pain and suffering we experience. The intent was to help us better understand the differences in our emotional response to the anguish and distress of others.

Our ER can fall on a continuum ranging from pity to compassion.  This is summarized below: 

As we survey our cities, nation, and the world, we appear to be more jaded in our feelings concerning the plight of others.  This cynical view has begun to infiltrate, not only our personal response but has become reflected in our reaction to the growing social issues and “human problems” we face each day.  For example, can we honestly say that our education, health, and social systems reflect compassion for the people they are to serve?  Are we REALLY our brother’s keeper (Gen. 4:9)?

I wonder what God has to say about our ER to the conditions of our world.  Does God view compassion in the same way we do?  This week we will explore how our view of compassion differs from God’s view.

Will the compassionate people please stand?

How would you describe a compassionate person?  Would you describe yourself as compassionate?  You may be sometimes and then at other times, not compassionate at all?   Why the difference in ER?

The Greater Good of Berkeley University define compassion as a mental state or orientation toward suffering (your own or others’) and includes four components:

    • Bringing attention or awareness to recognizing that there is suffering (cognitive)
    • Feeling emotionally moved by that suffering (affective)
    • Wishing there to be relief from that suffering (intentional)
    • A readiness to take action to relieve that suffering (motivational)

This explanation does not consider other factors that may also impact our ability to respond with compassion, such as understanding the nature of the situation and the effort required to resolve the situation.

Where’s the compassion?

If we look at Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:31-37), what were the orientations or mental states of the travelers, as described by The Greater Good.

Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise, a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came, and looked, and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.

Where did the train go off the rails?  The priest “saw”.  The Levite “came and looked.”  Only the Samaritan moved passed the cognitive response and moved directly to motivational.  “The Samaritan came where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion”.

So, he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

More like God

The Hebrew and Greek words sometimes translate “compassion” to have a broader meaning such as “to love” and “to show mercy.” Synonyms for compassion in English are “to be loved by,” “to show concern for,” to be tenderhearted,” and “to act kindly.”  Do these words describe you?

Compassion is an inherent part of God’s very being (Exod. 34:6).  In the Old Testament, God’s compassion was rooted in His covenant relationship with His people (2 Kings 13:23).

In the New Testament, God’s compassion is demonstrated in His Son’s ministry and among His people.  Jesus’ messianic compassion was extended to the helpless crowds (Matt. 9:36), the sickly masses (Matt. 14:24), the hungry people (Mark 8:2), the demon possessed (Mark 5:90), the unclean lepers (Luke 5:12-16), and to all in need of “love and mercy” (Isa. 61:1-3).

In our generation, Jesus has extended compassion to each of us—the hopeless sinner (Rom. 5:8).  While compassion is not a uniquely Christian response to suffering (Luke 10:33), Christians have unique reasons for nurturing our compassionate disposition.  God compassionately and truly cares what happens to us. We will talk more next week about how to develop a more compassionate disposition and its importance in navigating 21st century living.

Have a Heart!

 

Have a Heart!

Here’s how it all began

A businessman was called away to attend a critical meeting in a neighboring city. Because it was not very far away, he decided to drive versus fly.  As often is the case in car travel, he decided to stop at a familiar rest area along the way.  Unfortunately, during that stop, he was robbed and brutally beaten while exiting his car.

As he laid on the concrete, two travelers like himself stopped, but when they noticed him bleeding on the ground, retreated back into their cars and quickly drove away.  Finally, a traveler pulled alongside him and seeing his situation, came to his aid.  This last traveler loaded the businessman into his car and took him to the nearest hospital.

Does this story sound familiar? This is my 21st century version of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37.  The context for Jesus’ teaching was the question posed to Him concerning loving others and defining who is one’s neighbor?   Who are we to love or have a heart for?

I will use this familiar text to begin our study on compassion.  What is compassion and why is it important for us to express it to others?

What’s it all about?

Dr. Luke’s story, sad to say, is not unfamiliar in our society today.  We’ve heard stories about crowds who witnessed harm to another person right in front of them but chose to turn their head or back on the situation.

On a broader scope, we see social injustices and human needs accelerate in our cities.  Homelessness, food insecurities, and economic disparities, are all too familiar examples of where society has figuratively, turned their back.  Why?  What are we missing?  Do we have a heart? Where is our compassion?

Compassion by any other name

There is much confusion as to the difference between pity, empathy, sympathy, and compassion. Perhaps because we tend to use these nouns to describe our reaction to pain and suffering.  While these words are close cousins, they are not, however, synonymous with one another.

While there are broader details around the meaning of these emotions, I will try to be as simple as I can, for the purpose of this teaching.

    • Pity. We acknowledge a person’s suffering.  “I really feel sorry for those who loss their life in the earthquake.”
    • Empathy. We understand what the person is feeling. “I felt the same way when I loss my job.”
    • Sympathy. We feel what a person is feeling. “I was also harassed during high school.”
    • Compassion. We are willing to relieve the suffering of another. “I will help you end your pain.”

Authors studying these emotions, find that placing them on a continuum helps us better understand their differences including the key factors that affect our response to human suffering and pain, i.e., effort, understanding, and engagement.

Compassion is the feeling of sorrow or pity excited by the suffering or misfortunes of another.

Compassion is made up of two words: “com” which means with or together; “pati” which means to suffer.  Together one suffers with another.

What’s our response?

When we view the misfortune of others on social media, are we moved to sorrow or pity?  As we look at famines and wars in countries thousands of miles from us, what is our emotional response?  Sympathy?  Does your response change, based on the specific situation or person?  What moves us from pity to compassion?

I close with a few quotes on compassion to help us understand it is needed more than ever for what afflicts us in the 21st century. What does it take for us to have a heart?

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness. Mother Teresa

When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection or compassionate action.  Daniel Goleman

Compassion is an action word with no boundaries. Prince

The LORD is gracious and full of compassion. Psalm 111:4