Category Archives: compassion

What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”

Finished

It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.

No Can Do

This guy had it all.  He was extremely wealthy.  He had a position of great influence.  Like Donald Trump, except he still had his youth.  But it wasn’t enough; he was missing something.

And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   (Mark 10:17)

He knew he couldn’t buy his way into heaven and, like so many of us, he sensed that he needed to do something.  Some good deed, some act of penance or sacrifice.  Jesus began by telling him a sobering truth.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

Translation?  Nobody could do enough to get to heaven except God.  If you want to get to heaven by doing, you’ll have to be perfect.  In order to help the guy understand, Jesus said:

You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  (Mark 10:19-20)

Really?  He somehow had accumulated great wealth and had never taken something that didn’t rightfully belong to him or told a lie?  Not likely.  Even the last thing he’d said to Jesus wasn’t true!

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Now, take this one step at a time.  First pay careful attention to Jesus’ attitude toward the man.  Because He has the same attitude toward you.  Then, notice that Jesus took him all the way down the road to understanding he could never do enough.  He said, “Ok, you want to do something, go sell everything and give it all to the poor.”  Jesus knew, even if the man had done all that, he still would be in the same, empty, desperate condition.  Because, even doing such an extreme act of personal sacrifice would not earn you a spot in heaven.  What he really needed was to “come and follow” Jesus.

The man was already on his knees before Jesus and yet Jesus still told him to “come.”  “Come” meant stop relying on what he could do and instead, fully trust or surrender to Jesus.  And follow Him.  But even doing that would not be enough.  What is enough to qualify a person for eternal life is what Jesus  has already done and what He does for those who fully trust Him.  He gives them His eternal, Holy Spirit.  Jesus has done everything needed.  Our part is to come and follow.  And receive.

I don’t have words to explain why this is so.  But, I have discovered, to my own amazement and joy that it is.

Consider…

This is for Democrats.  And Republicans.  This is for Fox News and MSNBC.  For Donald and Hillary, Nancy and Mitch, Chuck and Ted.  It’s for Rush Limbaugh and Kathy Griffin.  This is for you.  And me.

It’s something Jesus said in response to the critics of His day.  It was a different issue, but the truth He spoke is just as relevant and important in the context of our current situation.

He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.  (Matthew 12:25b)

Most of us feel like divisiveness in this country came like the rising waters of a flood,. We stood by, helpless and dismayed.  We’re not in places of influence and power.  We shake our heads, bewildered at leaders who don’t seem to recognize the damage being done.  But, there is something we each can do.  We can turn away, refusing to participate in the rhetoric and sarcasm, the distortions and misrepresentations.  Instead,  we can choose to work toward greater understanding, reach out, building bridges of peace.  We don’t need to stand by and watch this “kingdom” be ruined.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

Steadfast

You had to bang on the pipes if you wanted hot water at certain times of the day in our first apartment​  Outrageous, since we paid all of $40 a month for this 5 flight walk-up. But it was frustrating because it seemed the flow of water was always interrupted at the most inconvenient times.

Psalm 103 says that God’s love and mercy are steadfast.  Think about that word. When you desperately need to experience love, it can come from no greater source than Almighty God.  And steadfast means, no matter what is going on in your life, you don’t need to bang on the pipes.

Here is a sample:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.  (Psalm 103:11-13)

Condemned to Hell?

“Yes, I do!”

That is what Russell Vought should have answered.  But, he can be excused for trying to deflect the question, because it was outrageous and unconstitutional.  Bernie Sanders, asked the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget if he believed non-Christians are condemned to Hell. When Vought replied that, as a Christian, he believed Jesus was central to salvation, Bernie said he therefore was unfit for the office, that he was “not someone this country was supposed to be about.”

Leaving aside the issue that the Constitution forbids such a religious test as a qualification for office, and the question of whether he would have asked a similar question of a Muslim, it is troubling that Sanders implied Christians would discriminate against those who are so condemned.  We are called, instead, to love, serve, sacrifice and possibly die for them.  Perhaps Bernie has seen the John 3:16 signs behind the goal posts, but he obviously has no understanding of the heart of Jesus, revealed in what He said.

Here are Jesus’ own words:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

Jesus stood before a government official who grilled Him about His fitness – not to serve in government but to live.  In that setting, Jesus said this:

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the worldto bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  (John 18:37)

Do you believe Jesus spoke the truth?  Bernie won’t be the last person to misunderstand or accuse.  How would you answer?

Better Words

Ready, Fire, Aim!  Way too often, that’s how my mouth works.  Before I know it, I’ve blurted out something stupid.  Or hurtful.  Just this morning a good friend told me about how I had thoughtlessly hurt his feelings.  I had thought what I’d said was funny.  He felt wounded.  How I wish I had paid more attention to the wisdom of this proverb:

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  (Proverbs 12:18)

The dictionary says “rash” means acting without forethought or due caution.  That nails it – right between my eyes.  Imagine how differently I’d be feeling if my friend had said, “Your words seemed to heal my heart.”  Instead of trying to find funny words, I’m going to work on finding words that heal, build up or strengthen others.

It’s not that I want to lay my struggles on you.  But, maybe you know someone like me, who could use to pay closer attention to that proverb or to this similar thought from the New Testament:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  (Note: – The original word for “unwholesome” doesn’t mean cussing.  It means something that causes rotting to occur!)  (Ephesians 4:29 – my added note)

So here’s my goal: Ready, Aim, Speak!