Compassion is Underrated

In Colossians 3:12, Paul writes, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts …” As those united to Jesus in his resurrection, we’re to look like him with resurrected compassion. Now, I know it’s good to be compassionate, but how significant is it?

I often hear Christians express noble desires like these: I want a better prayer life; I want to be more disciplined in my devotions; I want to be more bold with the gospel; I want to overcome sexual sin; I want God to help me with my anger; and so on. Indeed, these are holy ambitions.

But I rarely hear Christians say, “I want to become more compassionate.” Why? Is it too embarrassing to say out loud? Or, is it that we don’t value it much? Or think about it much? Now, I know the excellencies of Christ are endless and any attribute is worthy of meditation, but I can’t help but think that compassion may be underrated. So, I want to behold the compassion of Jesus, with the hope that it will help me to become more compassionate like him, and accordingly, more of a blessing to others. Here are three observations:

1) Compassion is Passive

In Matthew 9:36, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a  shepherd.” Matthew uses this word for compassion (or pity) five times (Mt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; and 20:34). Four of the five occurrences are in the passive voice, and one is in the middle voice. Who cares? Well, what this means is that compassion is something that happens to you. Jesus sees the lost sheep and is affected. He sees the hungry people (whether it’s 4000 or 5ooo) and is moved. He sees blind men calling out for mercy and his heart feels deeply. This is compassion. It’s passive. It happens to you.

Christ’s heart is soft and tender, easily moved and affected by the plight of man. He sees the lost sheep, harassed and helpless. The sheep don’t have a good shepherd, only selfish and self-absorbed shepherds (cf. Mt 23:5-7) who fail to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured and find the lost (cf. Ezek 34:2-6) . Their interaction with the sheep is described as “harassing.” What do we make of the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees? Their hearts are stone cold, hard as a rock. And even so, the sheep are still responsible, accountable to God, but helpless. Yet God himself, in the person of Jesus, comes to seek out the lost sheep (Ezek 34:11). Jesus is moved by their lost-ness. He knows the danger of the impending judgement (Mt 25:31-46).

2) Compassion is Active

Jesus is moved and affected, yes, but he is moved to action. Notice how the compassion of Jesus compels him: “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’” (Mt 9:37-38). And “These twelve Jesus sent out instructing them … ‘Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ … saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 10:5-7). Jesus’ compassion compels him to mission and mobilization. He has compassion on the hungry and feeds them. He has compassion on the blind men and heals them. He has compassion on the lost and calls his disciples to pray for more workers and to go preach and heal. Jesus’ compassion is active. His compassion compels him to action.

3) How to Cultivate Compassion

Looking at the compassion of Jesus highlights my problem. I lack compassion. I see the tenderness of his heart, but it convicts me of the hardness of my own. Why am I not more easily moved and affected by the plight others? Is their hope for my heart? What can I do?

In the context of Matthew 8-9, we see Jesus’s authority over leprosy, paralysis, sickness, demons, nature, sin, and even death. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus has authority over all things; this includes our hearts! He has the authority to say, “Let it be soft.” So, there’s definitely hope. But let’s think about what we can do. Here are 5 ways to help cultivate compassion for the lost:

1) Look at the compassion of Jesus. This kind of beholding has transformative impact (see 2 Cor 3:18).

2) Consider the value of people. Jesus saw the value of people, created in the image of God, and thus precious and loved by God (Isa 43:11). He wasn’t indifferent to anyone.

3) Move toward people & learn their story. It’s easy to move away from people, especially different and difficult people. But since people are precious, Jesus moves toward them. He entered our world, became a man (Phil 2:5-11) and identified with our sufferings and temptations (Heb 2:10; 4:15). He moves toward people. And he knows our stories. Think of Jesus’ interaction with the women at the well (John 4:1-26). He knew how sad and sinful her life was; yes, he knew her story, the exact number of husbands she’d had. But he moved toward her, not away. He listened to her, spoke with her and helped her. He knew the stories of the crowds of lost sheep. He knew all about the “harassed and helpless.” He often had dinner with sinners and tax collectors – even in their homes! I can certainly envision Jesus asking people about their lives as he showed them their need for redemption. He never just listened; he was also always affected.

Often times, the simple act of moving toward a person helps cultivate compassion. As we ask questions and learn about a person’s life and what’s important to them, we better position ourselves to God’s softening power over our hearts. When it comes to moving toward the lost, we must see their story through the theological lens of needing redemption, and as those who are precious to the Redeemer. This will help us to see people the way Jesus does.

4) Remind yourself that you are nothing. Often times, we think we’re something. This is the sinful pull within all those making spiritual progress (Gal 5:25-6:5). But it’s simply not true. We are not “something.” Yes, we’re precious to God, but our value ought to be attributed to God. And our spiritual progress ought to be credited to the work of the Spirit. Paul writes, “When anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal 6:3). And what does this have to do with compassion? Well, pride says, “I’m something” yet fails to see (and own up to) personal weakness, sin and failure, consequently finding it hard to sympathize and bear burdens (Gal 6:1-2).

So, let us remind ourselves that we are nothing. It will help prepare our hearts to be more easily affected by others. This mindset will also positions us in the same boat as the lost, seated nice and close, where we can compassionately guide them.

5) Pray to become more compassionate. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you … If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:7-11). Is asking for more compassion not a good thing?

As those raised with Christ, may God help us to put on compassionate hearts. Amen.

What does Christianity have to do with my life?

Last year, Power to Change (York) asked me to speak on this question: What does Christianity have to do with my life? I answered in two parts. The first can be found on my blog post entitled What is Christianity?, and what follows is the second part of my answer.

I want to highlight two gripping ways that Jesus Christ profoundly relates to you. I found these themes in the Bible; specifically in the ancient biography on Jesus written by his close friend Matthew.

1) Jesus is your judge.

Though many people don’t like the idea of judgement, Matthew’s biography clearly shows that Jesus talked a lot about judgement. In fact, Jesus taught that one day in the future, he will come and judge everyone who has ever lived.

In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus paints a picture of what Judgement Day will look like. He is the judge. All peoples will stand before him; and he will separate them, the sheep on his right, and the goats on his left. And their sentence? The sheep (the righteous) will hear: “Come, you who are blessed …” But the goats (the unrighteous) will hear: “Depart from me, you cursed …” Jesus is the judge. He is my judge. He is your judge.

In Matthew 7:24-27 we learn that everyone’s destiny is determined by how they respond to the words of Jesus: destruction for those who don’t trust him, taking him at his word; and life for those who trust him, proving their trust by doing what he says. According to Jesus, your destiny is determined by how you respond to him.

The inevitable event of Jesus’ future judgement ought to inform the way we respond to Jesus now. People save money now in light of future retirement. People pick academic programs now in light of future career plans. Future events have direct ramifications for how we live now. How much more the future judgement!

You may be thinking, “but I’m a good person; I’ll be okay on Judgement Day.” I don’t doubt that you’re a nice person; many Canadians are nice. But when we speak of judgement, the only person’s estimation of your goodness that counts is the Judge’s. So, what does it mean to be good according to Judge Jesus? The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a great summary of his standards, that is, of true goodness and righteousness. He’s not only concerned with what we do, but what we think, and why we do the things we do; he cares very much about motives. A summary of these righteous standards is found in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Truth is, he knows we’re not. In fact, in the sermon, he calls us “evil” (Mt 7:11). Not the most flattering pre-trial assessment. We need a Saviour. We need forgiveness.  This brings me to my second point.

2) Jesus has the authority to forgive your sins.

The name Jesus means God saves. Before his birth, and angel came to Joseph in a dream, saying, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Judgement is coming. We deserve to be punished for our sins, but Jesus came to save us. Christianity is pretty simple; as John Stott taught, it’s a “rescue religion.”

In Matthew 9:12-13, Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick … I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus came to save sinners. He came to save people – people who realize they’re not good in God’s eyes and yet call out to him for help. He came to save the spiritually sick from the impending judgement that is coming.

The good news is that Jesus truly  does have the authority to forgive all of your sins. Anyone, no matter how corrupt your past (or how depraved your current habits), can find full forgiveness in Jesus. Just as he displays his authority over nature, disease, demons and even death, he shows his authority to forgive sins (Mt 8-9). In Matthew 9:1-8, he heals a man who is paralysed and proclaims his authority to forgive sins. Interestingly, he shows his authority empirically while proclaiming his authority to do what can’t be seen: forgive sin. The question is: do you believe? Do you believe he has the authority to forgive sin? Even your sins?

When Jesus came, through his death, resurrection and ascension, he ushered in the New Covenant. A covenant is when God establishes an arrangement with people whereby he is their God and they are his people. When it comes to the New Covenant, Matthew wants us to know that Jesus gave wine to the disciples, saying “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). God is establishing a relationship with people through Jesus Christ wherein people receive the forgiveness of all of their sins by faith in Jesus. As people forgiven by Jesus, God is their God and they are his people. Again, the way into this covenant is not by works or trying to be a good person. It is by faith in Jesus Christ. This is the only way to receive forgiveness; and therefore peace with God. Everyone from every nation and background is both commanded and invited to come to God through faith in Jesus Christ, the only one who has the authority to forgive sins.

How else will you receive forgiveness?

Though I could go on, those are a couple of pretty significant ways that Jesus Christ relates to you (and me!). You might not feel the relevance; but Jesus certainly sees it. May he help us to both see it and  feel it.

What is Christianity?

It was a true joy to speak at a Power to Change event at York University last month. I’m really encouraged to see the way they’re engaging unbelievers with the grace and truth of Christ. I was asked to speak on this question: What does Christianity have to do with my life? Good question. There are hundreds of ways to answer the question, but what follows is the first part of how I responded. I’ll write another post on the second part.

We can capture the essence of what Christianity is from two angles.

1) “Follow Me”

Christianity can be summed up in two words, “Follow me.” These are the words of Jesus and this is the essence of Christianity. Christianity is not primarily a system of beliefs. Though it contains a system of beliefs, it is, in the first place, knowing the person of Jesus Christ and following Him. Jesus’ call to follow him is his call to trust him and prove that trust by doing what he says. Believing that he is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he will do. It is a call to love him, know him and follow him.

2) Christianity is built upon the truthfulness of Scripture, which is the lens through which Christians see the world.

The Bible governs a Christian’s beliefs about origins, meaning, identity morality and destiny. Christianity is founded on the truth of the Bible. The Bible is one story that reveals who God is, but the storyline is composed of four different stages.

1) Creation. God created the world and everything in it. He created it good. He created us good. He made us to live in his presence, under his rule and to enjoy him.

2) Fall. Adam and Eve rejected the rule of God and because God is just they suffered for it. According to God’s just dealing with rebellion, he cast them from his presence. Mankind was damned and doomed. The world was cursed.

3) Redemption. This is God’s a rescue plan; his peace making plan for his enemies. Redemption is what God has done to save rebels from their rebellion and to bring them back to himself to live under his rule, in his family, fully forgiven for the bad they have done. He sent Jesus to save people from the curse and their sins.

4) New Creation. This is the hope of what God has promised. Not only did Jesus come and die and rise and leave. He’s promised to return and judge the world. All rebels who are saved by Jesus will be with him, in his presence, living under his rule, forever. This is the hope of Christianity.

These four stages of the story of the Bible form the lens through which a Christians see the world. But Christianity is primarily about knowing and following the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus not only believed in and confirmed the truthfulness of Scripture, creation, the fall, redemption and new creation, He is the climax and main subject of the entire story. Everything else in the story before him foreshadows him. Christianity is about Jesus.

So now, in light of all of that, so what? What does all of that have to do your life? (Stay tuned for part 2).

“What I’m Offering You Is a Steak!”

The following post was written by my good friend, Alex Philip. Below he gives an encouraging account of a couple of conversations he had this past Friday night. 

On Friday, I joined Paul for an evening of evangelism.  Paul asked if I would take the lead with another brother from Westminster.  I was filled with gladness when this other brother walked into the Tim Hortons: I had taught this young man almost five years ago when he was in grades 10 and 11.  Today, he is deliberately seeking to honour Jesus by declaring his gospel to others.

Thanks be to God, we had a fruitful evening with many meaningful and pleasant conversations.  There are too many to list in a blog post.  Two, though, stick out.  The first was with a couple of young men who were clearly heading out for a night of revelry.  We approached them with outstretched hands.  They refused to reciprocate, insisting instead that we tell them what we were selling…

“We’re not selling anything.  We’re giving something away.”

“And what’s that?”

“The opportunity to know that your sins can be forgiven through Jesus Christ.”

The more vocal of the two laughed jeeringly and heartily, saying, “I knew you were pedalling religion.”  He continued, “Tell you what, we’re on our way to pick up smokes and then we’re heading back to my apartment where we have a couple of girls…”  He proceeded to invite us back to his apartment to join them in their activities.

Realizing that time was short before he and his friend walked away, we declined his invitation saying, “What you’ve offered me is a marshmallow.  What I’m offering you is a steak.” He thought the response was funny and retorted, “Okay, you got me.  I’ll take what you’re giving away.”

We gave him a gospel tract and before leaving, he finally did shake our hands and give us his name. The last thing I saw was him reading the tract as he headed towards the store to pick up his smokes.

Later on that evening, Kathy and I had a long and meaningful conversation with a young girl who was spending the evening sitting on a bench, listening to her iPod. She was attentive and receptive to the gospel to the point that we were able to present the gospel to her twice.  Once from the Bible and the second time from the 2 Ways to Live booklet.  At the end of our conversation, we invited her to place her trust in Jesus Christ.

She expressed a sincere concern for the countless number of people who would never hear what she had just heard.  Gently, we tried to respond biblically to her concern.  We had the opportunity to pray with her on the street corner and she indicated that she would like to come to church.  Please pray that she would come and be converted and then enter into fellowship with Christians.

I Asked Him, “What Do You Think of Jesus Christ?”

On Friday night I was at the bus stops at Lawrence and Don Mills with fellow workers (from New City Baptist and Westminster Chapel). Meeting much  indifference and hostility made it a sobering night. What follows is a short summary of one of those meetings.

I went up to a big guy who looked around 50. I opened my mouth and said, “Sir, I have a question for you,” and with a gentle smile, “but just to warn you, it’s a serious one.” He looked at me, waiting to hear what it was. “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” With much anger and resistance he said, “Not much.” I quickly responded, “Why?” With more emotion now and added volume, he said, “No more questions! You had one. That’s enough. Thank you.” We stood there silently for a bit. He looked very angry. I said, “Have a good night.” He replied, “You too.” I walked away.

Phil and I reflected on the exchange as we walked. Phil said, “That shouldn’t surprise us; people hate Jesus. The Scriptures are clear about this. Who knows the hypocrisy he’s seen in his life? But, either way, people hate God.” Afterwards, Phil prayed for him.

Let me pray for this man again. Father, please cause that man to reflect on my question, “Why?” Please put that question to his heart: “Why don’t I think much of Jesus?” If it’s because of the sinful conduct of Christians, please help him to see the foolishness of rebelling against Jesus because of what someone else has done. May he see that Jesus is always good. Lord, have mercy on him!

Nick Speaks of Jesus on the Streets: The Story and the Lesson

Nick is the lead worshipper at GFC Don Mills, but more importantly, he deeply loves Jesus and is committed to following him.  Below he shares a really cool story about his experience of speaking about Jesus when he came out with me two weeks ago.

Friday night

Paul, Ricardo and I went out on Friday night to speak to people about Jesus. As is Paul’s custom, we walked around different bus stops to speak with anyone who was willing. We had a few good conversations but one that stood out to us was with a young man. Let’s call him Tim though that’s not his real name.

We met a man at the bus stop

Paul and I approached Tim (Ricardo stayed behind to pray) and told him what we were all about. We introduced ourselves by name and informed him that we were members at a church in the area and wanted to speak with people about Jesus. Paul began by asking him if he had any religious background. He told us that his mom was a Christian but he characterized her devotion as “moderate”.

Asking questions

Then Paul asked Tim about himself a little bit. “What are you doing?” Paul said. He responded by telling us that he was on his way home from work. Paul continued, “What kind of work do you do?” “Customer service,” Tim responded. At that point I broke my way into the conversation. “Do you get yelled at a lot?” I asked. “Yeah,” Tim laughed. I pushed the conversation a little further, “In this line of work do you see how messed up people can be?”

So began our conversation.

People are messed up

Tim agreed that some people are indeed messed up; but then he said that some people aren’t all that bad. In fact, he said that some people are good. In some ways Tim was right. People are made in the image of God and they do retain some of the good-ness that God created us with; but I told Tim that it’s interesting that you usually never meet anyone who thinks they are bad themselves. It is usually “other people” who are the problem.  He agreed at that point and said, “Yeah, we tend toward an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.” I wanted him to see that “we” are all part of the problem and not just “them,” so I asked him, “Tim if the world was filled with people just like you, do you think that all the world’s problems would disappear?” He said, “Probably not.”

The story of the Bible and its climax

I proceeded to tell Tim the story of the Bible and the climax of that story. It went something like this: Our world has been utterly destroyed by sin and we need a King who can put the world right. God promised that one day he would send his King and this is exactly what we read about in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus came into the world, in fulfilment of God’s promises, pushing back against sin and all of its effects. That’s why we see him healing diseases, forgiving sins, calming storms, casting out demons and even raising the dead. Jesus eventually died on the cross and rose again so that we ourselves could be forgiven of our sin and included in God’s kingdom. One day Jesus will return and make everything right. The thing about it, though, is if God is going to make the world right and rid the world of sin something has to be done about us. That means either forgiveness or judgement.”

The challenge

Afterwards, Paul challenged Tim. He asked him what he thought about this and if he ever thinks about these things. Tim told us honestly that he has always been indifferent to Jesus. He said that he’s indifferent towards a lot of things.

Our conversation continued for a while (he let three buses go by while we were speaking). He asked some good questions regarding the centrality of God and the importance of the gospel of Luke (We had copies that we were giving out). We let him know that the gospel tells the story of Jesus and is a good place to start but that the entire bible is God’s inspired word. Paul even had the chance to speak with him about Genesis 1-3.

This was an encouraging encounter. Tim was interested, open and honest. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again but I hope that he bows his knee to King Jesus and is welcomed into the life of the age to come.  Pray for him.

Five lessons learned:

1)      Talking about Jesus brings us joy: As I was speaking to Tim about Jesus I found that I myself was getting excited about Jesus. I began thinking, “Wow! This really is good news!”

2)      Seeing the gospels as the Gospel makes Christianity incredibly relevant to people:  There are many stories in the gospels about all sorts of people from all sorts of different walks of life. In Tony’s case he works in customer service. This is a career where one is continually yelled at and made to feel small. There are plenty of stories in the gospels about people who are “made to feel small” and how Jesus meets those people where they are. Ultimately, we see how Jesus came into the world to bring God’s kingdom and solve the systemic problem of sin that causes all the problems we encounter.

3)      Just be yourself and talk about Jesus: Evangelistic “schemes” can be incredibly helpful at times (I know I’ve benefited from them at times) but it’s important to just be yourself. We are talking to human beings not robots. Talk to people where they are at and then talk about Jesus. You don’t need a PhD in Missions to do that. Although evangelism can be hard work at times it can also be really fun when we are ourselves.

4)      Pray: God is in control and can soften people’s hearts. We need to plead with God that he would do just that and that he would lead us to those whom he wills.

5)      Worship: Evangelism is worship. Whether you experience a Tim or a person who wants nothing to do with you God is glorified when Jesus is proclaimed.

What Are You Living For?

One month ago marked our first Friday evening on the streets for the fall. John and Sidney, from Westminster Chapel, joined me for what turned out to be a very encouraging evening. But there was one conversation in particular that I’d like to share with you.

We met two young teenage girls close to the bus stops. It was great to hear Sidney share the gospel with them. The girls listened to her speak of Christ. Sidney told them why Jesus came and about the forgiveness and life that he offers. She did an excellent job sharing the good news about Jesus.

And how did the girls respond? Well, they just looked at us smiling and giggling. They seemed terribly awkward and unsure of how to respond. We thought we’d try to ease the awkwardness by asking questions, hoping that two-way discussion would blossom. Their answers were quick and simple; and they kept giggling. One of the girls knew a little bit about Christianity. She said she’d been to a Christian youth event with her relative. The other girl did not seem to know much about the faith.

I sensed they were just waiting for the conversation to end, but not because they were angry; they just didn’t know why this stuff was important. And it was a Friday night! Why talk to strangers about Jesus? Sounds a little weird. I sensed the need to cut right to the heart. We were real people talking to real people about a real Judge and Saviour! We were talking about stuff that really mattered. So, I cut to the chase and interjected: “What are you living for?”

The one girl looked at me, thought for a moment and said, “High school.” I said, “Why?” She said, “To go to University.” I said, “And I’m assuming in University, you’ll live to do some more schooling; but what for?” She said, “To get a job.” And then I said, “You’ll get a job and then you’ll live to find a husband. And then you’ll live for your kids and your work. Then you live for your kids to go to University. And then you live for your retirement and then you’ll die.” They were silent and listened closely.

I pleaded with them, “Look nothing is more important than Jesus Christ. He said that one day you will stand before him and give an account of your whole life; and all that matters is how you’ve responded to him. That’s pretty serious stuff. It’s not the kind of stuff you should put off. Take your Bible and read the four Gospels that are all about Jesus. Look into these things. Don’t put it off.”

We said our goodbyes, but I couldn’t help feeling utterly refreshed and sobered by getting to heart of things. When we’re out on the streets talking to people, we’re talking to real people about a real living Saviour. Let’s get real and talk, not religion class style, just trying to get the answer right. Let’s talk about what we’re really living for; and why living for the Lord Jesus Christ is all that matters.