Category Archives: compassion

petty

mosquito sucking bloodA couple of years ago my wife and I got to spend a day with one of our professors from college. I say “our” even though I never took him for a class,  because of how instrumental he was in shaping both of our paths. My wife often says that she would have spent her entire student debt on his one class that she took because of what it meant to her faith walk. And in our lives together he’s the person that we have often turned to during difficult times in ministry and he usually has some small nugget of truth that resonates with us for months and even years to come. This day was no exception as we found ourselves talking about ministry and the church again. At some point in the conversation he says to us, “You know what the two great sins of the church are? Being boring or being petty.” At the time I kind of shrugged it off, as I am apt to do…but time reveals so much, doesn’t it?

I’ve come to realize how much truth there was to that statement. The first piece is pretty self-explanatory. The last thing the church should ever be boring with is the life-transforming message of the Gospel. The second piece is something we have all lived with and seen in our own contexts. We love to major on the minors. We will go to war in the church over the color of carpet, style of worship, wall decor, etc. And the grudges we hold if we don’t get our way. Paul says this to the people of Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:12-13 Clothe, dress, adorn, put-on love, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience! In other words, don’t be petty. Don’t major on the minors. Keep the first things first.

And if you don’t think pettiness is a big problem consider this adage from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”. Granted, he may have meant this in a positive light, but I have trouble seeing anything positive associated with mosquitoes. If we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, it can destroy relationships, families and even churches over stuff that at the end of the day doesn’t even matter. I have seen friendships ruined over stuff that people shouldn’t even be getting up in arms about, but because they have taken a stand, they can’t back down. And at the end of the day, when we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, we have allowed sin to control our lives…because truly is about me and not about we. I always find myself coming back to the quote by Meldenius, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Perhaps it is time for some of us to learn not to be petty in non-essentials and to clothe ourselves in charity for the sake of our friendships, our churches and the world.

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after the storm

Last night we had a bit of a storm in Odessa…I guess that is a bit of an understatement. Last night the heavens furiously hurled huge chunks of ice at the property and possessions of the residents of Odessa, TX. Okay, maybe that was a bit too dramatic. There was hail. And lots of it. Everything from marble sized to softball sized hail made it’s impact on our community last night . On our church property alone there were windows busted out and many of the cars parked in our parking lot lost windows and windshields in like fashion. Needless to say our mid-week service was cancelled and most all of us anticipate a long day today. However, the best thing to come out of this (stay with me for a second) was what could be observed immediately following.

My first observation actually occurred during the storm. Our church all of a sudden became a haven for those who were out walking or whose cars were no longer operable. Some of our lay people even gave folks rides home afterwards. After the rain and hail subsided a few of our people even began to assist one another with glass and debris clean up. Our church Media and Arts director even helped tape up multiple windows (with trash bags and gaffer tape) and then proceeded to jerry-rig a bumper back onto a vehicle so the owner could get back home. A little later I got to see neighbors across the street from the church coming out of their homes and talking and seeing how they could help one another with what lay ahead. I was reminded of a passage from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – II Corinthians 1:3-4

I love the idea that the compassion we extend to others is a reflection of the compassion we have received from God. In fact, the word for comfort in the Greek in this passage is parakaleō, which is best translated as come along side of. And isn’t that what compassion is all about. It’s not so much about throwing money at a cause or sending words of encouragement from a distance, but it is actually about coming alongside one another, acknowledging one another, and embracing the humanity in each other. True compassion sees the need, but it doesn’t denigrate the humanity in the process. Last night I was able to observe compassion truly lived out in the life of my church and it made me proud to be their pastor. Actually, it left me humbled. The fact that people this awesome would allow me to come alongside them and talk about Jesus is pretty spectacular. But then again, it’s also a reminder that we are all in this together. So today may be a long day for a lot of us, but we truly are all in this together.


fast food and quick fixes

This last Sunday I made a mistake that I hope never to repeat again. You see my wife was not with us after church and so I decided to treat the kids to something special for lunch. My wife has a gluten allergy from which she was suffering an exposure to and this was a place that we normally avoid like the plague because of said allergy. But I thought what’s the harm? The kids love it and it will make me look like super-dad and I might as well have some as well. So there I was 20 minutes later with my 20 piece McNuggets and Dr. Pepper and thought to myself, this will all work out fine… But that afternoon I couldn’t get my Nazarene Nap in and then that night I was up half the night. Not sure what was in those nuggets, but it did not go well with my system.  Needless to say, the very next day I swore off McDonald’s. Well, at least until my kids convince me otherwise.

But that’s kind of how things are today. We like our convenience, our fast food, our drive-thru, our microwaves, our digital shopping, our high-speed WiFi, our fill in the blank. We have become a society bereft of patience and it really has begun to cripple our relationships and even our witness as the church. We have become so used to fast/convenient/express/etc. that we no longer know what it means to invest in someone’s life through the art of true discipleship. Especially those of us who have grown up in and around the church expect people to walk in our church doors and become like us overnight without any of the hassle because if we can beam a satellite signal around the world in 2 seconds then surely I can turn you into me overnight as well. I love the picture the writer of II Peter gives us of God in regards to redemption, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” – II Peter 3:9. God is not slow, but patient. Hmmm.

I recently asked one of my somewhat older (although amazingly young in Spirit) parishioners how she was doing and she responded, “I’m doing good. Just slower” And I love this. Why? Because it accepts things the way they should be. I think sometimes we can get frustrated with people we are trying to love into the Kingdom or disciple because it isn’t happening as fast as we think it should. But if God is patient with the whole of creation, shouldn’t we be patient in allowing Him to work in the lives of those we are ministering to? Yes it may cost us more time and energy and it may even get messy and drag us through their muck as well, but isn’t that what God did for us? Maybe we need to step out of our fast food quick fix mindset and realize that the people we are doing life with are flesh and bone just like us and that we need to realize that growth and change don’t happen overnight. And maybe as we become a little more patient maybe a little more of that Divine character can be seen through us and before we know it the change is happening. So today may you move a little slower and be okay with it.


versus

It’s something we learn from an early age, the myth of us versus them. As kids it is often for sports, competition or play. As we grow older sometimes the distinctions that we make become more serious with age. It’s no longer about the games we play or the sports teams we cheer on (although sometimes these rivalries are pretty serious), but we begin to make distinctions based on race, regional affiliations, philosophies, gender, etc. the list could go on forever. And although sometimes these differences are naturally observed, the damage we allow them to do at times is quite unnatural. When we operate out of the paradigm of us verses them we begin to rob ourselves of what God may be trying to do through us.

You see, these distinctions do not belong to God. In the beginning we read this about God’s creation of humanity. “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:26-27 Here we read that all of mankind is made in the image of God. All of mankind bears God’s image, God’s touch. So when we create these divisions, these categories, we limit our ability to see the “other” as someone who is also made in the image of God. And ultimately the way in which we treat them as a bearer of the image of God is a reflection of our love for God. If that love is limited by sweeping divisions and categories, we are not truly reflecting the love of God for His creation.

In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis comments on our interaction with fellow image bearers in the following way, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” One might say that our sweeping categorizations of people much like ‘nations, cultures, arts, civilizations’ are mortal as well and limit our ability to see each other as immortal beings. What would happen if we were able to drop the us versus them mentality? What would happen in our families, relationships, encounters, etc. if we were able to simply see each other as made in the image of God? May you see those around you in a new light today and truly embrace your neighbor as a bearer of the image of God.


it’s time

One of my favorite activities in all the world is to be early for something. You don’t believe me? Ask my wife. (Of course it seems one of her favorite activities is to be marginally on time or even late for things) But I love to be early for all sorts of events. I love arriving early for movies (I’m really good at the trivia), for church (and not just because it’s my job), or even for dinner. But one of my favorite places to be early to is the airport. Specifically I love being to the airport early if I am picking someone up. Anticipating the arrival of someone, granted it’s usually close family or friends, at an airport has always been a great experience. However, my favorite of these experiences was when we joined about 80 or so others to welcome home Amelia, our close friends’ adopted Guatemalan daughter, who we had been anticipating and praying over for almost eight years. The excitement in the room was tangible and as we saw her come through the doors with her parents and brother (granted she was now one of seven) the place exploded. And then it got so quiet you could feel the holiness of that moment in your very soul. I’ll never forget that arrival for all eternity.

2,000 or so years ago the world experienced a similar arrival. The world had been waiting with eager expectation for the fulfillment of prayers, prophecies and longing for something better. For things to be set right. For messiah to arrive. Then suddenly the night was shattered by the voices of an angelic chorus announcing to the world His arrival. “I bring you good news for all people…Glory to God in the highest and on the earth peace to those favored by God” (Luke 2:10,14) And then the earth was silent again. A holy stillness lay upon the earth as most did not even recognize the salvation that had been ushered in.

Today in the church we celebrate this anticipation of Christ arrival as the season of Advent. Advent is a Latin term that means “to come” and so the practice of Advent is literally the practice of anticipating the once and soon coming arrival of Christ. It is as if we take on the voice of the prophet, “A voice of one calling:“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5 The fear that I have is that we might find ourselves not ready as much of the world was at that first arrival. Maybe because we just forgot what it is like to anticipate His arrival. Maybe because we have fallen out of practice in welcoming Jesus. Jesus may not come to us with angelic announcement every time. Maybe He comes to us in the form of a child, the least of these, someone needing food, clothing or shelter, etc. and the question before us…are we ready for his Advent? It’s time. May we prepare our hearts for the once and future coming of our King this season.

 


like a dad

I think that sometimes our lives give us insight into the character of God in amazing ways. Yesterday was one of those instances for me. I was dropping my son off for school, which I like to do as often as possible, and on our way into the building I asked him if he forgot anything. At first it was a fun little game until he realized he had actually forgotten his drink at home. I know that for most people this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but there were a lot of other stressful things for my son that morning and so this kind of sent him over the edge. He asked me to go home and get it. My response was complicated. You see, I am trying to help him see that our actions have consequences and that sometimes we have to face up to them. I walked him into class as he choked back emotion in front of his class mates. I really didn’t intend to go home and get his drink, but a few minutes later I found myself pulling into the driveway.

As I was pulling away from his school, 15 minutes later, a verse from the Psalms came to mind, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” – Psalm 103:13. I think a lot about how we are to compare our character to God, but here the Psalmist is comparing God’s character to us. God has compassion on us, much like we have compassion on our own children. That’s a crazy analogy, but one I have definitely come to understand more as I raise my own kids.

But then I think about how we are called to reflect God’s love, not just to our kids, but to our neighbors i.e. everyone. When it came to my son in the above mentioned situation at some level I wanted him to face the consequences of his actions. But ultimately I ended up having compassion on him. I wonder how often we think the same things about others around us. We see the decisions they make, the situations they are in and instead of having compassion, we want them to face the consequences. Is this truly the way of a compassionate God? Is this the way of Jesus who once said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?…then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” – John 8:10-11 A compassionate God sees us in our desperate situation and seeks to lift us up out of the dirt, dust us off and help us to get better. He doesn’t long for us to get our comeuppance. Shouldn’t we be called to do the same? Shouldn’t we be like that compassionate God who was once described like a dad who has compassion on his children? May we somehow learn to look at others through our heavenly father’s eyes that truly are a bit like an earthly father’s compassionate eyes for his own kids.


daniel

It was a little over three weeks ago when he stumbled into our church. I say that because he really wasn’t in the best of shape and had trouble walking. But he came and I greeted him in the normal fashion and gave him a visitor’s packet and told him it was nice to have him in church. It was a different kind of Sunday as we had a special speaker and at the end when we had an altar call Daniel came forward. I went down to pray with him and he confessed that he hadn’t been in church in probably about twenty years. We then prayed together for his re-commitment to Christ and to following after Him. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new friendship for me.

I saw Daniel a couple of more times that week as he attended our Sunday evening Bible study and our Wednesday night gathering. I came to find out he was proficient in Biblical Hebrew although we was self taught…who teaches themselves Hebrew? He was very Biblically knowledgeable, but he had also had negative experiences with the church before, so he was a little gun shy about getting involved. Daniel also struggled with self worth because of his health issues and had several struggles because of that. But I reassured him that at our church that wasn’t something that we based your value on and we were excited to join with him on his journey of restoration and wholeness in Christ.

Another week went by and occasionally I would get calls from Daniel. Wanting to talk or see if he was doing ok with church (he honestly wanted to make sure he was doing it correctly). He was even worried about the sharing he did at our Sunday night Bible study when he floored us all by reminding us that we relate the love of Christ better to one another out of our brokenness instead of our piety (perhaps he should have been the one leading the group). One night he called around the time I was putting the kids to bed, and even though I was tired, I took his call anyway. He was having a pretty rough day and he referenced an illustration I had used in church about needing God, but needing someone with ‘skin on’. Without really thinking about it I got his address, drove over to his house and when he answered the door I gave him the biggest hug I could muster (it might have even gotten awkward). But then we spent almost an hour just talking about life, philosophy, music and more. I think he was surprised to learn that his pastor was familiar with punk bands from the 90s. We even talked about his upcoming baptism as he had requested to be baptized after coming back to Christ.

Unfortunately he missed our next Wednesday and Sunday because he had gotten sick and then Sunday afternoon he called to apologize for his absence. We talked a bit as I was preparing my Sunday evening study on the book of Daniel, his namesake. We even made plans for his baptism and he had made peace with the idea of pouring for his Baptism as our baptistery would not have been very accessible for him. We talked a little bit about his health and weight and I reminded him that his worth was not determined by those things, but by who God saw in him and the journey he was beginning anew with Christ. After a while I assured him that we would look towards doing a Baptism service in a couple of weeks and then we got off the phone.

The next day of the week is one I always look forward to as it is my day off. While the rest of the world hates Mondays, I love them. I am never able to sleep in so I usually have my morning coffee by 6 AM at the latest. As I was finishing up my coffee the phone rang and I saw it was Daniel’s number. But when I answered…it wasn’t Daniel. It was his mother and I sat there numbly listening as she explained that Daniel had had a heart attack the night before and had passed away early that morning. I tried to summon up the correct pastoral response for her, but I was just floored and immediately sick at my stomach…I’m sure I said something like, “I’m so sorry…let us know if we can do anything…” But I know it wasn’t enough.

I found myself going to the shower and just weeping. Why? Why so soon? God he was making changes. He was going to be better. He was going to do better. He was going to be my friend.

And honestly I don’t have any answers. I know he wasn’t in good health and I understand how human biology works and what had taken place. And in my spiritual frame of reference I know Daniel is now made whole before his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that one day I will see him again as God has always seen him. But I miss him. And I wish I had more time. I still do.

So hug your friends. Kiss your spouse and kids. And know that this life is short and we never know what tomorrow may bring.


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