what does true Christian compassion in the United States and elsewhere look like?

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to your dreams that you dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the LORD.

Jeremiah 29:1-9

We in Christ are exiles in this present world. We’re scattered all over the earth, and like what follows after this passage, we await God’s visitation, the return of Jesus Christ to bring God’s promises into complete, final fulfillment. In the meantime, again we live as strangers and exiles in whatever nation we live.

God told God’s people through Jeremiah in days of old to settle down and live faithfully in Babylon. We see Daniel doing the same thing. It’s interesting that they were not called to make the worship of God the law of the land in Babylon. They were simply to be faithful to God regardless of what was happening in the world. Yes, it was judgment, but mercy too. But they were to live out their faith in a foreign land. Remember Daniel’s example? Daniel didn’t try to convert Babylonians, but his example spoke volumes.

Fast-forward to today where I live in the United States. Christians are known here for wanting to take over the levers of power everywhere and not just push hard their agenda, but force and enforce it on others. Not at all anything like what we read about in Jeremiah 29. It leaves me wondering many things, and simply strongly disagreeing on many things more. But one question I might ask is simply this: Where is compassion in all of this, and specifically, Christ’s compassion which we’re called to bring and to be to others?

It seems like we want the same thing the Jews of old wanted. No exile, God’s visitation now, and everything just as we think it ought to be. But if you take Scripture seriously, we all know that only at Christ’s return will that begin to take place. In the meantime, what should we do now?

God’s people are the church together and in different places. We’re to show compassion in thoughtful, discerning ways, not only by handouts, but trying to understand the big picture, and what can be done to get rid of injustice in society, both individual, and especially systemic. Both. We have to keep working on that, because really the problem can be us, or at least we’re not apart from the problem. That is all a part of this, whether we like it or not. And we honestly ought to, because if the Christian life is anything at all, isn’t it a life of ongoing repentance?

The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not state power. That salvation is for individuals, yes, but also it should enable us to encourage the best for the nation-state in which we live. And to be relaxed within our pluralistic world, even as Israel was to live in the Babylonian world. Finding the good in it, and being an influence for good through Christ, being good and human.

Power politics and forcing and enforcing our way is not God’s way. At least not as evident in Jeremiah 29 and the gospels and what follows.

the gospel and salvation is personal in more ways than one

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Most often in the Christian tradition I’ve been a part of for decades, the gospel and salvation is personal with reference to our individual relationship to God, and to each other. And that’s good insofar as it goes. But we need to take personally the entire vision God casts. Yes, we have only our small part in that, but it’s our God-given part, and therefore a gift fitting into the whole.

We have to take this personally where we live: among our loved ones, in our neighborhood, in the church, at work, and in the world beyond where we live. In the words of Micah: we’re to do justice, to love kindness and mercy, as we walk humbly with our God. Simple, yet profound.

This means we really do want to understand what is going on around us. If we’re part of a church and denomination involved in such with good works, we can be thankful, and we can learn a lot from them.

This is to become a part of who we are, as well as what we’re about. What we’re aspiring and learning to do day after day, week after week, and year after year. In and through Jesus.


Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

I wrote this on our board at our work, and it got me to thinking. We look at this as applying only to Jesus’s disciples. And we can well argue for that in its context. After all, in his great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is laying out the difference between those who build their house on the rock, as opposed to others who build their house on sand.

But it also got me to thinking. And by and by I’m guessing God’s revelation moved me to the realization that God’s heart goes out to all who mourn. I think the pages of Scripture support that. Certainly the words that God reached out in love to us when we were still sinners, Christ dying for us.

This means we ought to have a heart for all who are mourning. Christians should be known as people with the largest, most tender hearts. As we hopefully become more and more people “after God’s own heart.” In and through Jesus.

weeping willows and violins

I’m fond of violins, maybe not so much fond of weeping willow trees, though they have their own unique beauty. I’m not sure why there’s either an ambivalence or even abhorrence toward sorrow. It seems as if you can’t be a Christian and be down at any time.

Violins are one of the most beautiful of in fact many wonderful instruments. Jews and Russians are especially known for violin playing. It seems that those from backgrounds or ethnicities that have experienced profound suffering are especially proficient at the violin.

I can’t understand why Christians shouldn’t enter into the suffering of the world. I’m not at all saying that our traditions say we shouldn’t; it’s just that too often our Christianity is more attuned to the sound of celebration rather than lament. But scripture includes both. Certainly praise of God, but sorrow as well. Certainly over our own sin, and over the brokenness we experience. But also over the plight of others. In fact we ought to be present when others suffer, so that somehow we can empathize and enter into their suffering, and be a support for them. And in seeking to be a “faithful presence,” Christ can be present.

God’s grace helps us to be always rejoicing, even when sorrowful. But it also helps us to grieve over the loss of others, over the problems, indeed crises of the world. It is certainly true that we can only bear so much. That we have to cast our cares on God. But it’s not like we are then removed from the sorrow around us, or our own.

We look forward to the day when there will be no more sorrow, suffering and pain, when God wipes away every tear from our eyes. But now by grace we want to remain in the pain of the world, sharing in its suffering, knowing that through Christ’s suffering even now great help can come. To love others and find God’s comfort in our own sorrows, that in turn we might comfort others in their sorrow in and through Jesus.

what does God bless, and what is the way of Jesus concerning fleeing refugees?

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Exodus 22:21

Yes, the United States is a nation of laws, but any pretense of being a Christian nation should be dismissed on the grounds of refusing to take in the refugees escaping from war torn ravaged countries such as Syria. The issue is compassion and not just for a safe haven, but an assimilation over time into a new country and place, immigration laws in place to expedite that.

If many in this nation believe in a God who blesses those who do good and do his will, and are thinking about the blessing of this nation, then we would do well to have policies and laws in place to show mercy to those who are here, even if illegal, and to come up with a just, merciful plan. When all a nation can do is think about itself, should such a nation expect to receive any of God’s blessing?

There are a number of other issues that many Christians in the tradition I’m in are concerned about and there’s no doubt that such issues need to be addressed. And there are plenty of differences among those who think about what this nation actually is and should be, which can make all the difference in what kind of laws should be in place. But there shouldn’t be any doubt that a nation which has a strong Christian element should be influenced by the gospel accounts of Jesus and the mercy and compassion he brings. One story of his that comes to mind is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who unlike the Jewish priest and Levi, helped the beaten, dying man on the road.

The church must take the lead in this, in fact that is the one place and entity in which we should expect no less than compassion for the refugees. This should go without saying, but we can all too easily be isolated and insulated from perceived possible dangers, or any thing for that matter, which takes us out of our comfort zone. But we’re called to deny ourselves, and be willing to lose our lives for Jesus and for the gospel. And the gospel of reconciliation is a welcoming gospel, inviting people to Jesus in the offering of salvation to everyone.

This shouldn’t be a political matter; it shouldn’t boil down to the politics of this world. Though in actuality it is about what is aptly called the politics of Jesus. It is rather a moral and spiritual matter. We do good to those in great need; we don’t just leave them for dead. That is costly, but might it not cost any nation much more which turns its back on such? Do we believe in a God who sees and blesses and judges?

But for us in Jesus, and for the church this should not be an issue at all. We do good to those in need, we support them in what ways we can, pray for them, and share the good news of God in Jesus. And we continue to love and help them with no strings attached. That is the way of Jesus, the way that we should take. Even as we pray not just for our nation, but for the rest of the world, and for God’s kingdom in Jesus to at last come with the needed judgment for justice and salvation.

miracles and healings: signs of the presence and promise of the kingdom of God in Jesus

John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 14:12-14

The gospels are replete with Jesus’ miracles and healings, at least most of which even liberal scholars acknowledge as likely historical. Included in the gospel narratives are risings from the dead, by implication of Jesus’ words even done by his disciples in his name. We remember Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Of course Lazarus died again, later. The passage cited above is in the context of more miracles (click the link to see Matthew 14). And as we go on post-Pentecost, we find that miracles in Jesus by the Spirit continue in gifts given to the church.

What are we to make of these miracles? Certainly Jesus did them in significant part out of compassion, just as the text quoted above says. But parallel to that and just as significant: Jesus did them as the sign of God’s kingdom come in him, and that he was indeed the Messiah to come. And they were done not only as a sign of the presence of God’s kingdom come in him, but of the promise of God’s kingdom to come and fill the earth when he returns. At the heart of that promise is Jesus and in Jesus is always death and resurrection. So that the new world to come, this old world already touched by its presence in Jesus, is a world in which all things are made new as in new creation and resurrection in Jesus. Not in terms and values of the old world and age, which is why Jesus often told others not to tell about the miracles he had done. They wanted to make him the King on their terms.

And so we can look to God in and through Jesus to continue to do the miraculous today, and we should pray for such to happen, and even do such, in faith. Some are especially gifted with such a gift as we read in 1 Corinthians 12. But we do so as those living in the old order and age which is passing away, and we with it. But in Jesus destined to become brand new in the new order in King Jesus for us and for the world.


the need for empathy and a listening ear

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Romans 12

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that those who fail to listen to others fail also to listen to God. To help others, or receive help ourselves then, it would be the prerogative of the helper to listen well both to the one in pain and to God. Instead Bonhoeffer wrote that the cleric can go on and on in pious condescension with religious speak, having failed to hear anyone but themselves (my paraphrase).

When something good happens to someone which makes them happy, we should celebrate with them. That is especially true of those who belong to Christ and are thus in God’s family with us. When someone is mourning or in much pain, we need to listen well and make it evident that we empathize with them, even insofar as we can, sharing in their pain. As we hear not only their words, but also their heart, we can then be open to hear something of the heart and counsel of God for them, at least something of God’s heart, even if we don’t have much if any words to share.

If we do have some difficult words to share with them, they need to see that it comes from a loving, empathetic heart. God is not harsh, and if we’re going to speak for God, neither can we be either. It is all love, even if it is indeed hard words that must be spoken. Of course in all of this we need God’s wisdom. We may need to help them be ready to receive all that we would say. Or perhaps we need to test the waters by asking questions which can help draw out issues which need to be addressed. What we must avoid doing is simply writing off what they say as if it is nothing, while having our own ready answer. Our answer may (or may not) be spot on, but the one we are sharing it to may end up being repulsed so as not to receive it. God’s voice is different than that, and we need to reflect and speak from that insofar as we possibly can.

…but what about compassion?

Recently I read somewhere (I can’t find the link) that it was found in some study that those who are religious act out with less compassion in a given situation of meeting someone’s need, than those who have no religion. Those with no (or perhaps little) religion when they meet someone’s need, or even see someone in need have more compassion, and act more out of compassion than those who are religious.

Yesterday I shared about the importance of having a sense of calling in doing what we do. And my guess is that many who are religious act to help others in need out of that sense of being called by God to do so. Whereas, for others, when they see need or act in response to it, they are not motivated by any sense of prescribed duty, but from the heart responding to someone’s plight and need.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ story/parable of “the good Samaritan.” In that story a man was waylayed on the road by robbers, himself beaten and in need of care. A priest and a Levite saw him on the ground, but passed by on the other side. Their religion actually didn’t make it convenient at least, for them to help the man. They would be ceremonially defiled, though I believe there is provision in the Torah for them to help someone in need like that. Even though it indeed would have interfered with their religious duties.

Along comes a Samaritan. Remember that Jesus told the Samaritan woman that Samaritans don’t know who they worship, and that salvation is of the Jews. Their religion was bogus, not really in line with God’s revelation given to the Jews. So this Samaritan comes along, and unlike the religious Jews, who actually do have the true religion or faith- this Samaritan stops and helps the wounded man, indeed likely saves his life. And makes sure that his needs are taken care of. This Samaritan unlike the priest and Levite, was “moved with compassion” (CEB) and acted on that.

We in Jesus ought to be the most compassionate people in the world. Certainly we act out of calling apart oftentimes from how we feel. However the very point Jesus makes in the parable is that unlike the priest and the Levite, this Samaritan was a neighbor to the one in need. And that the religious man who asked who his neighbor was, wanting to justify himself, was told by Jesus to be a neighbor to those in need. In other words, to not be a stranger, but one who was near, indeed alongside when need be.

This is not to say that others apart from Jesus cannot show great compassion to those in need. That is part of our humanity as image bearers of God. It is only to say that when our full humanity is beginning to be restored in Jesus, we ought all the more to be compassionate and show that compassion. Indeed all we do is to be done in and out of love. As James informs us:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Are we moved with compassion over the plight of others, no matter what we might know or not know about them? Are we like Jesus, taking pity on them, indeed loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? Love is to come from the heart, and also from the hands, in other words in good deeds which meet the needs of others.

Compassion. Am I moved by that? And how much? Why am I so moved? Good questions to ponder and think on as we in Jesus seek to live out his saving love to a broken and wounded world, beginning with the people in our  path who are in need.

the upside of down

Writing this post for me is not easy since I am prone to being down in ways which are not helpful. Although even during those times much good can result as I listen to my wife’s counsel and receive her prayers, along with the counsel and prayers of any others, such as one of our pastors, or someone like a spiritual director, and experience God’s grace anew. But there is a downness which indeed is healthy and helpful which scripture speaks of. A broken and contrite heart we read, God does not despise. God indeed dwells with such. And indeed exalts the humble, or those who humble themselves before him.

It is not easy walking through a situation in which you feel all but caved in, and your faith inactive and weak, not seeming to matter. That is when and where we need to look to God all the more, when all seems troubled, and we remain baffled, not knowing what to do, or being tempted to do something we should not–as in taking a matter in our own hands.

The upside of these down times can be that we grow in the depths of our trust in God. That we learn to live more settled in his Peace and Presence, all the while knowing that this Life is not of us at all. And that we can empathize much more with others in their weakness, something said of both human priests, and of our Great High Priest, Jesus, in the Book of Hebrews.

The only problem with this upside is that there is the down, which remains something of what we must continue to experience, it seems, during our remaining time in this life. There really seems to be no escape from it. I am amazed really at how God keeps me going day after day, week after week, and on to year after year. It is truly a working of his grace, so that I can come to realize that as God has been faithful in the past, and shows himself faithful in the present, so I can count on God’s faithfulness in Jesus to the very end.  All in and by his grace in Jesus. And part of his kingdom working in Jesus in and for this world. By and into the new creation in Jesus.