“The Gift of Compassion.”

Show compassion to another today

Advent Series #2 1John 3 to 5 Compassion is the trait of sharing and caring for others in their time of need. The Apostle John lived his last years in Ephesus, but his heart is seen for the prisoners he ate, slept, and worked with on the Isle of Patmos. He never mentions that time other than in Revelation, but we can see his heart in this letter.

First, he recalls some have lost loved ones to death, and he mourns with them. He reminds them that if they were believers, they have entered eternity coming face to face with Christ. Don Wyrtzen wrote a hymn that shares this sentiment:

“But just think of stepping on shore-And finding it Heaven! Of touching a hand and finding it God’s! Of breathing new air-And finding it celestial! Of waking up in glory-And finding it home!”

The Apostle John wants us to keep the gospel message alive, and we do it as we “love other Christians.” After years of brutality as a prisoner himself, John could have been bitter. Instead, he comes alongside us to ask: how can you say that the love of God resides in you if you lack compassion for those in need? 

It may be Advent, but the message is the same all year round: Christ is the gift God has given to us, and we are to share that gift with others.  

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Living Righteously in an Unrighteous World

Forgiveness is the greatest gift

1Cor 5-8 Christ gave us a higher principle when we are faced with sin.

Luke 17:3-5 “If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” Leave the results to God. An example from history: Corrie Ten Boom. Many years after being released from one of the worst concentration camps in WWII, met one of the guards who had foisted these atrocities upon her and many others. As Corrie came face to face with him and heard his words of repentance, she had a choice. Later she wrote that when she offered forgiveness, it was like a “flood of joy and peace.” 

Paul speaks to the disputes going on in the Corinthian church, and he is distraught by their actions. They were airing their dirty laundry in the courts rather than allowing the church to determine the right response. Are there times when one must take the case to the courts of the land? Obviously, yes, as Paul did in Acts 22 and 25, seeking resolve and using his Roman citizenship as the leveraging tool. However, in this chapter, Paul addresses two individuals who had a dispute and needed to resolve it in the church, not outside where the unbelieving audience would be watching and determining Christianity’s stance.

We live and move in an unrighteous world, but our responses speak volumes to those without Christ. The greatest example is forgiving when others would say, “strike ’em dead.’ Jesus reminded us that there is a higher law that God holds us to, which is to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

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“Be My Disciple”

Tell what God has done for you

Luke 8:26-39 Dr. Luke uses his pen to share with us that a true disciple loves as God loves and shows compassion as He does. In Luke 8:26-39, the focus is on the principle that works must accompany a disciple’s faith. James shared this same principle: “faith without works is dead.”

Dr. Luke shares the vibrant story of the healing power of Jesus. He removes the stigma of the devil’s works, which are impotent to His power, and as we read this story of the demoniac, we are confronted with the power of sin versus the healing power of Jesus. Jesus’ heart was touched with the compassion and love the Father has for the lost.  It is His love that draws him to this Gentile that the question asked by the disciples might be answered: “who is this man?” This is a question Dr. Luke continues to present to his audience and answers through Jesus’ healing, rebuking the wind, and as he reverses the effect of the evil one’s power. In doing so, the disciples are given evidence that “the gospel, …is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” [Romans 1:16]

Lastly, Jesus, full of mercy for the swine herders, leaves them a disciple who is a witness to God’s power lest they say to God that they did not know. They are now without excuse, as Paul noted in [Romans 1:20b]. The healed demoniac is a lesson in discipleship. We are to be God’s witness, and reveal what God has done for us.

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“Never…”

Jesus forgives

Mark 14 to 16 Jesus quoted Zechariah, “you will all scatter,” but Peter exclaimed: I will “never” forsake you and am willing to die for you.  His word “NEVER” echoes across the centuries as a reminder that words cannot be retracted. Peter will be found alone weeping bitterly; he will weep for the words that are now etched in the sacred scripture’s scrolls: I do not know the man.

Peter wept tears of repentance, but it was not until we see him through John’s eyes do we really understand what happened that night. Jesus offered total and complete forgiveness, yet He asked Peter three times: Do you love me? His sin had shattered Peter’s heart, yet he was repentant. How different from Judas, who was only remorseful and took his own life with no hope of eternity with the Savior.

Through this short vignette, we also learn a more important lesson; our words either refine us or define us. Jesus asks will you love me with a total commitment from this point forward until we meet in eternity. Jesus does not ask for a rehearsal of our sins; he knows them.

What he is asking is, where is our heart now?

Peter is an example of one who was truly repentant and was restored to full fellowship. Have you repented as Peter, or are you still tracing the footprints of Judas?

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“Only Jesus Can Mend a Fickle Heart”

The heart is desperately wicked

Mark 11: During Christ’s last week, often called the Passion Week, we see His only miracle of destruction in the cursing of the fig tree, his second cleansing of the Temple (did they not get it the first time He did this?); the true heart of the religious leaders, the fickle heart of the populace. What are to learn from this action-packed chapter? With its pretense of leaves and lack of fruit, the fig tree is a picture of the fruitlessness of the religious leaders, the people, and Israel’s nation. Is this a picture of our hearts as well? The Temple’s cleansing shows us that God often has to come and cleanse our hearts because, as Jeremiah said, it is desperately wicked.

The attitudes are most noticeable. We read that the religious leaders were fearful of Jesus (vs18 and 32), and we recall that they seemed to have conveniently, like Thomas Jefferson, cut out the commandment they didn’t like: “thou shalt not kill.” And then there are the people with their fickle hearts. Is our heart fickle too? In this chapter, they sit amazed in the Temple listening to Jesus, but they will be crying for his crucifixion in less than a week. Truly our attitudes scream about our hearts.

If Jesus were to come to our churches today, what would he see? Would he see religious leaders much like the ones in His time? Would he see the parishioners with fickle hearts? May this chapter cause us to reflect and to seek His cleansing.

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Forgiveness or Unforgiveness

Do you only forgive once or more?

Matt 18 How deep is your forgiveness cup? Is your content shallow like a teacup, or is it deep like a mug? How often is our forgiveness like the shallow teacup whose contents get cold quicker? Peter wanted to forgive only seven times, but Jesus reminded him that our forgiveness must be deep and heartwarming.

When Jesus had finished that statement, he launched into the story of the unforgiving servant. The king heard his tale of woe and, with great passion, forgave his debt fully. Yet, after leaving his presence where he was forgiven all, he refused to forgive a paltry amount of another slave. The servant seemed to have only a teacup’s worth of forgiveness.

The unforgiving servant is a picture of how we hold onto to hurts and refuse to forgive. They say that if you seek forgiveness and hear the words “I forgive,” you can move on. But, what if the person who offers forgiveness on the outside is still stewing about that problem? The unforgiving servant is a picture of what we do when we refuse to forgive another. We not only imprison another, but we also imprison ourselves.

Today be willing to forgive, for it is the deepest gift you can give another for as the Father has forgiven you, so you should forgive another.   

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God Loves Our Prayers

God loves a praying people

Zechariah 1 -2 When we read the prophets we come away with our minds swirling because in our 21st century we know we are reading a historical record with implications for our spiritual lives. A new administration under Cyrus allowed the exiles to return to rebuild the Temple. In that time Isaiah prophesied that this was His plan and even named Cyrus as ruler several years before his birth! (Isaiah 44:28)

Both Haggai and Zechariah would remind them that God wanted his people to learn. Learn and do not fall back into what your ancestors did not do. He had sent prophets but they did not pay any attention or listen to them. He offered hope to them if they turned from their evil wickedness but their words fell on deaf ears. Micah had reminded them God would turn and have compassion upon them and cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Now with this ringing in their ears, they listened and began to confess:  “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has indeed done what he said he would do to us, because of our sinful ways.” Words of repentance are a sweet balm to the Lord in heaven. He loves to hear of our words: I am sorry and I am willing to obey.

It is then that the floodgates of heaven swung open! “Sing out and be happy!” but also a simple reminder: “be silent in the Lord’s presence…”

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Bitterness Divides/Forgiveness Unites

Beware of Bitterness

Obadiah: Do you recall the story about a feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s who harbored grudges spanning several years? They were led by a rogue clan member who refused to forgive. Read Obadiah with this tale and the Jacob/Esau story in mind. Just like the Hatfield/McCoy feud, the descendants of Esau/ Edomite’s hearts were full of bitterness. Esau was bitter because his brother Jacob got the birthright and blessing–by trickery. He never forgave him, although when he met Jacob many years later, he “seemed” repentant.

God sent Obadiah to Israel to prophesy about Edom to show them that unforgiveness is a trap laid by Satan. The Edomites harbored a grudge of this event’s outcome from years and years ago. Like the Hatfield/McCoy’s, they rehearsed it repeatedly, probably embellishing the details to the next generation as to why they would not; should not, could not forgive their enemy. The reality is unforgiveness is a sin. Instead: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap  burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you” [Prov 15:22]

Israel lies precariously close to this story because they refused to forgive their neighbor Judah. For us, it is a warning sign of what happens when we cling to hatred instead of forgiving.

Truth Principle: When we do not forgive, we are shackled in our past.

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Our Responses Reveal our Hearts

Ps 69-70 Psalm 69 is the third most quoted psalm in the NT.  (e.g., those who hate me without cause [Jn 15:25], Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine (some translations use vinegar) and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink… [Matt 27:48].

David begins his psalm with an analogy of physical drowning as he tries to cope with the criticism of others and finds himself in a pit with no way out. David’s loneliness reminds us of the story of Joseph and his cry. Later the brothers would recall his cries: “We saw how distressed he was when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen.”

When we hear the cries of others in distress, do we also refuse to listen?

David’s tone changes as he reminds himself of God’s lovingkindness and compassion, his saving truth, the fact that God alone is one’s redeemer. He pleads with God, “pour out your judgment upon them, do not vindicate them, may their names be deleted from the scroll of the living.” These are harsh words!  In the NT, we see the higher way to seek justice as Jesus becomes our example “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34]

Today may we choose the higher path, the path of our Savior, our True Messiah.

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“Grace Abundantly Flowing”

Unsplash Grace by Priscilla du Preez

2Samuel 9 Ever watched Mission Impossible? Those are fake, but this story is real! A bit of history here: for centuries, when a new king arose, he executed the remaining family members of the former king. David could have followed the pattern of others, but he is not like others. David had made a pretty significant promise to his best friend Jonathan, now dead, to care for any of his remaining family members. Imagine yourself as the one remaining son of Jonathan. What will the new king do? 

Enter in the spy named Ziba, who happens to know that disabled Jonathan’s son, whose name you can hardly pronounce, Mephibosheth, was in hiding. This is where grace enters the equation. In fear and trembling, Mephibosheth is called to the palace expecting the worst but hearing the best news ever. He will be given the land of his father and will be seated (said four times) at the king’s table for the rest of his life.

Mephibosheth is like us as unbelievers hiding from the king. We know as the family of the former king; our head is on the chopping block. However, Jesus is the true king, and like David, he extends his grace. King Jesus sends, Ziba, a.k.a the Holy Spirit, to find us and bring us home to his palace.  We fear the worst, but hear you will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom. Do we deserve it? No, but God’s grace is poured out on us called salvation, and now we can be in His presence forever. 

Are you a Mephibosheth? King Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit to rescue you if you accept his invite.

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