Tag Archives: compassion

Are you too complacent?

I look around and I see comfort. I see a lot of comfort. I’m comfortable. My children are comfortable. Folks at church are comfortable. We are all very comfortable. And this strikes me as not right. We’re too comfortable.

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
and from there go to Hamath the great;
then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
and bring near the seat of violence?
– Amos 6:1-3, ESV

Those who were in Zion (Israel) were at ease. Those who were in Samaria felt secure. However, were they right with God when they felt this way? God, through Amos, called them to look upon other lands and peoples. God asked them a key question, “Are you better than them?” How should we answer that? Am I any better than the folks in Haiti, in Guatemala, in Sri Lanka, in Albania, or in the downtown area of my city? I am more comfortable than many in these locations. However, if my standard is God’s standard, I am not better. Moreover, not only am I not any better, but my nation is not any better, either, which goes to God’s second question. I’m not better, but I’m more comfortable. Should I be worried?

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”
– Amos 6:4-7, ESV

I believe I should be worried. Most believers relaxing in such abudance should be worried. The warning in verses 4-7 is exactly against such an easy, comfortable life if we aren’t grieved over our brothers and sisters who are suffering. A brother in Christ recently wrote that he was having a hard time after coming back to the United States. He has been on several missions trips to a particular South American country. There, the folks are ecstatic over a single room house we’d classify as a shed, one meal a day, no electricity, and no frills to speak of. Meanwhile, if we get bored and are awake at 3 AM, there’s likely at least one fast food joint open near us with a hot meal and free WiFi. This is a huge and drastic separation in fortunes. It did not sit well with him. It hurts me to say this, but most of the time I don’t even think about the wide gap which exists. The constant comfort lures me into forgetting about my brothers and sisters.

Therefore, the condemnation and judgment I read in verse 7 is deeply concerning. While the specific context of the prophecy was Israel, it reveals the character of God. He is not pleased when His people luxuriate in comfort while their brothers and sisters suffer. The only conclusion I can reach is I am too complacent. A desire to help is not about guilt and it’s certainly not about a tax write-off. I love my Lord Jesus. His Word tells me He loves and is concerned for my brothers and sisters facing greater hardship than I. If I love Him, my love should extend to them, too. Real love in this scenario involves action. What am I doing for the love of others? What am I doing to overcome my complacency? Are you too complacent as well? If so, what will it take for you to overcome this complacency that lures us away from the love Christ would have us demonstrate?


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Are You Striving for Peace with Everyone?

I remember a few months ago I was talking with a friend and I said something to the effect of, “I can’t get along with that guy.” My friend’s response was basically, “I know, right? I don’t think anyone gets along with him.” We both had conflicts with the person in question. So did others we knew. We left it there. If we all had conflicts with this gentleman, then it was this gentleman’s fault and it was his problem to fix. My friend and I were both wrong.

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. – Hebrews 12:14, ESV

DoveThis verse is contextually in a set of commands about how we should act, how we should view God’s discipline, and what we should strive for. This list of command is set up with words like, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (v.2) and “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself,” (v. 3). Basically, the writer wanted to remind us that what we’re being asked to do is no greater than what Jesus already did. Therefore, we have no basis for a reasonable argument as to why we can’t obey.

Let’s go back to verse 14. It’s written to believers. It says, “Strive for peace.” That’s a command. We are to strive for peace. The onus is on us. The responsibility for action is not on the one we think has the problem. The responsibility is on the Christian who hears/reads the command. Who are to strive for peace with? We are to do so with “everyone.” Oh, boy. That’s why my friend and I were totally wrong.

It doesn’t matter if we don’t get along well with someone. It doesn’t matter if we completely disagree with their way of living or their occupation or the way they talk or the way they look or anything about them we happen to not like. We are to strive for peace. Striving for peace doesn’t mean that we have to agree. Striving for peace doesn’t mean anything goes. Striving for peace doesn’t mean we compromise our beliefs in Jesus Christ and what we understand from Scripture. Striving for peace doesn’t mean you let a wrong go when it hurts other people, when you can and should make it right. However, striving for peace also doesn’t mean we dump the responsibility to resolve differences on the other person. It doesn’t mean we can sit back and smugly say, “It’s their fault.” And it also doesn’t mean we go looking for an argument, wanting a fight, just to prove we’re right and they are wrong.

This is a hard teaching. That’s why the writer prefaced it with the fact that our example is Jesus Christ. This is a teaching that we’re going to struggle with. It’s hard to strive for peace when someone wants to get you upset and intentionally targets you with their venom and wrath. It’s hard to strive for peace when you come across someone who is diametrically opposed to you on so many things. However, we must struggle against the temptation to give up and not strive for the peace our Lord commands us to pursue. Let us strive for peace, even when it looks hopeless. Never give up on the Lord and what He can accomplish if we merely obey.

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Do What You Can

Give a Helping Hand  [[Explore]]None of us can save everybody. None of us can feed all the poor. None of us can stop every murder, rape, and violent crime. If nations struggle with these problems, it only stands to reason that no church and definitely no person can solve them, either. However, we’re not called to solve them entirely.

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ – Luke 10:30-35, ESV

Jesus used this parable to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ point was that everyone are our neighbors. If there is a person in need, and we are in a position to help, we should help. That comes through very clearly in the parable. That should be our guiding principle when it comes to helping others. No, we can’t help everybody. However, that’s not Jesus’ expectation. He expects us to help where we can when we see the need.

That’s doable. We don’t have to try big efforts as individuals. We just have to try to meet the needs in front of us that we’re able to meet. We’re not going to be able to meet them all. However, if we’re all trying to help, what one person can’t meet another person can. If all of us who are called by Christ were to step up and help where we can, there would be a whole lot of needs met.

As churches we can tackle bigger needs than as individuals. However, churches can see a big need and feel overwhelmed. The same principle applies: we do what we can. As more churches actively seek to meet the needs around them, the problems become smaller and more manageable. Folks get helped. Just because we can’t help all doesn’t mean we should give up on helping some. Whether we are talking about individuals or churches, let us do what we can.

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Remaining Reasonable in an Unreasonable World

sufferingBad news surrounds us. Turn on the broadcast news and there is tragedy and turmoil. Browse the newspaper and it’s more of the same. Read the news on-line and there are sure to be stories that’ll break your heart. It’s very easy to become discouraged. It’s very easy to feel hope slipping away. However, we were warned that this was going to happen.

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. – Matthew 24:6-8, ESV

I know that’s not a very specific prophecy. It wasn’t intended to be. Jesus knew His time with His disciples was coming to a close. He would soon be going to the Cross. He also knew that His disciples were like the rest of us: they could be shaken by bad news. He wanted them prepared. He wanted them expecting bad news. Why would He warn them so? Quite simply, so that they could prepare themselves. That warning is found in Scripture so that it didn’t just benefit those who walked with Christ, but so that it could benefit believers throughout the ages. Jesus didn’t just want His immediate disciples prepared, He wanted us prepared, too.

The world is going to be unreasonable. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a man-made one, or simply the evil of mankind, we’re going to see tragic news. We must understand that these events are inevitable. With respect to the last two, we shouldn’t throw our hands up and say, “That’s just the way things are,” because we are commanded to try and make things better. In all three cases, knowing that such events will happen means we can prepare for them. We should have a thoughtful and ready response. We should have a way to act that alleviates suffering, that shows compassion, that demonstrates Christ’s love. We should not be surprised by suffering or left speechless by turmoil. Yes, it is reasonable to expect those things to break our hearts. We should not be surprised by them, though. After all, we have been warned that these things will happen. As the old saying goes, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

We can do this as individual believers and as part of the larger Church. We should do this as individual believers and as part of the larger Church. There is so much suffering around us that opportunities to put into practice the commands from our Lord are almost without number. We can and should be a voice of reason in an unreasonable world. We start by remaining reasonable. We must not be shaken by the terrible news that we can come across each day. Instead, we should prepare ourselves for it and be ready to meet it in a sacrificial and loving way. That’s the first step in being able to respond lovingly to our neighbors, both those living next to us and those living around the world.

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The Importance of Right Action

alastair shackledIn chess we have this word “kibbitzer.” Someone who noisily comments on a game he or she isn’t playing in is usually called a kibbitzer. Often times, the folks who are called kibbitzers rarely play. In other words, a kibbitzer is all talk and no substance. For chess players engaged in a game, kibbitzers are nuisances because their opinions on what should be played can infect your own and because they can break one’s concentration. Think about that first one for a minute… untested and untried ideas from inexperienced folks competing with tactics and strategies developed by chess players who are trying to execute them during the pressure of the game. Add to that the break in concentration. That’s not a solid recipe for good chess. It’s also not a solid recipe for good ministry.

“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” – Isaiah 1:12-17, ESV

The problem with Israel here is that they were doing a fine job of talking about being faithful. They were even going through with the outward signs by keeping the sacrifices and the like. In reality, though, they were all talk and no substance. God accused them of doing evil, of injustice, of oppression, and of not taking care of the orphans and the widows. Now here’s the question that hurts: if God were to speak to us today, would He say the same thing about our churches?

Unfortunately, I think He would. There is a lot of evil that goes on within the walls of many churches. Political agendas, power struggles, how money should be spent, who should get the solo for the Eastern celebration, etc. I’m just touching on the obvious things. Anyone who has been in a church regularly in recent months has likely seen more. Let’s carry that further. How are we, as God’s people, attacking injustice and oppression when we see it (and it’s everywhere)? How are we taking up the cause of the orphan and the widow? Can you point to specific, ongoing ministries in your church that deal with these last three accusations by God? No? Then how are we any different from the Israel of Isaiah’s time?

Simply sitting on the sidelines arguing isn’t what we’re supposed to be about. Caring who gets the credit misses the point that God is supposed to get all the glory. These are serious charges and we’re guilty of them. God told Israel to “fix itself,” to borrow a phrase from my Citadel days. I’m sure He expects us to do the same. We must be a Church that is active in ministry. It must be the right activity, though. In a lot churches today you can stay busy, really busy, with the activities that are going on. However, being busy isn’t the same as being effective. That goes to the first part of the verses. Israel was busy. They were carrying out the feasts and the sacrifices. However, they weren’t being effective. They weren’t doing what they needed to be doing. We’re too often guilty of that same problem. We need to be active, but active in ministering and serving in the ways God has told us to be. We need to “fix ourselves” not only for the benefit of the people around us, but for our own benefit as well.

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Stand Up to Evil Men and Troublemakers

Knights dueling at Belvoir Castle Fall 2004There’s an old saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This is often attributed to Edmund Burke, but is a misquote. He said something to the effect that when evil men start to get together, good men must do the same, otherwise they will be a pitiable sacrifice (evil will overwhelm good). The idea both quotes capture is that good men must stand up to evil. How exactly to do this differs from situation to situation, but Scripture is clear that we must stand up for what is right. David experienced just such an issue:

But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.”  – 1 Samuel 30:23-24, ESV

In David’s case, he and his men has marched as part of the Philistine army in what would be a confrontation against the Israelites. Saul’s pursuit of David had driven him into the hands and protection of the enemy. Being David’s former enemy, many of the Philistine commanders didn’t trust him. They figured David would turn on them at a crucial point in the battle, giving the victory to Israel. As a result, they appealed to his commander and sponsor and that man was forced to send David and his force home.

Only when David and crew reached home they found that their stronghold had been sacked and their families and valuables carried off. So you’re looking at a group of men who had marched off to battle, then were told to go home, only to find that there was nothing to come home to. David and his men didn’t settle for this setback. They went after the attackers. However, the fatigue of all the marching meant some of the men couldn’t go on to engage in the battle. David didn’t want to let the attackers get away, so he left those men behind and pursued. The remainder went into battle and won and were able to liberate everything and everyone that had been taken. Of course, when everyone was reunified, the ones who had been able to go on and fight didn’t want the ones who stayed behind to get anything beyond their family members.

This is where David had to step in. He was the only one who had the charisma and authority to settle things. The right thing was for the entire army to regain what they had lost. There are always some who cannot make the battle. Should they be treated differently? In the case of those who tried to fight and couldn’t, no they shouldn’t. That was David’s view because it was the right one. We see a similar argument from Jesus in the New Testament with the workers hired throughout the day, all who receive the same wage.

Had David not stepped in, had he not intervened, this event could have split his army. There was a core group of troublemakers who felt they were right. To make matters worse, they were the majority. I can’t go so far to say they were being evil. A lot of us in the same situation would have been nursing similar feelings. But there’s no doubt about the fact that were causing trouble and stirring up disorder. David stood up to them and stopped it. As a result, David continued to have a strong and effective military force in the years to come.

When we see evil and wrongdoing we, as the Church, must make a stand. We cannot accept what is an abomination in God’s sight. But let me very blunt here: we cannot respond to evil or a wrongdoing with further evil or wrongdoing. Our history as the Church is full of exactly this type of response. God is not pleased with evil, regardless of who did it or why they did it. In other words, the end does not justify the means. Not when it comes to God. We must take a stand, but we must do so in a way that glorifies God. He has commanded us to repay evil with good and that doesn’t just mean being pleasant to those who seek to harm us. Be ready to confront evil and troublemakers. Do so when you are called to do so. But do so in a way that is holy and pleasing to God.

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Take Care of Others First

Volunteers loaded supplies for long term flood recoveryA key leadership principle I learned in the military was to take care of my troops first. This was borne from thousands of years of experience by military leaders before me. The officers who take care of their troops, who genuinely care for their welfare, who put their troops above themselves, are the ones who routinely got more out of said troops. However, it’s more than just about getting more out of someone. It’s also about building relationships and developing a culture where one willingly and selflessly sacrifices for another. The unit that has this mindset can do seemingly impossible things.

This sounds like how Christianity is supposed to be, doesn’t it? That’s because it is how Christianity is supposed to be. Our model is Jesus and time and time again in the Scriptures we see how He was selfless, how He put others above Himself, and how He chose to serve. He did so even though it imperiled His life. And if that’s His example, that’s the model we are to follow.

And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab. And he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me.” And he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold.  – 1 Samuel 22:3-4, ESV

David was in trouble. Saul was hunting him down. Yet in spite of his own troubles, David took the time to think about his parents. He knew they could become Saul’s targets because of him. As a result, he went and got his parents and negotiated with the king of Moab so that they could reside there safely until all the trouble blew over.

My thoughts on this are if I had been Saul, I would have thought David would try something like this. So either I would have planned to ambush him on his way to Bethlehem or I would have followed his parents until they met up. Then I would have destroyed David and his forces. I might even have used his parents as leverage to have him surrender without a fight. That way I would have preserved the available manpower Israel had to command against its enemies.

As smart a man militarily as David was, I am sure he considered this to be a very real possibility. Yet he still chose to go and get his parents and put them out of harm’s way. He took care of them first. He put aside his own situation and focused on the people who were important to him. Actions like these are why David was described as a man after God’s own heart, despite his many faults.

In our Christian walk we need to be aware of the folks around us: fellow church attenders, neighbors, family members, the overworked cashier at our grocery store, everyone. It’s really easy to become self-centered, especially when we’re in a tough spot or just have had a lousy day. However, what God asks of us is that we aren’t self-focused at all. Instead, He would have us consider others first, to take care of the folks around us. Sure, we must maintain our relative health in order to continue to be a servant to others, but we should not be so concerned about being first, about being most prominent, about being anything but a servant to everyone. After all, didn’t He say something about those who put themselves last here on earth getting to be first in heaven?

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