A Little Compassion Goes a Long Way

compassion

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

It can be difficult to live up to Paul’s profound command found in Ephesians 4:32.  The verse doesn’t come with an escape clause.  It says to be kind and compassionate and to forgive, but makes no mention of expecting others to return the favor.  We should forgive others as God has forgiven us.

Frederick Buechner once said, “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin.  It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you, too.”

Living in Ames, it is common to see homeless people standing at certain intersections with a sign asking for food.  My wife and I consider ourselves compassionate people, but our fear is that if we give them money, they may not use it for food.  They might just use it for alcohol.  We certainly don’t want to be enabling a drinking addiction.

This past Christmas, my wife and I came up with a good idea.  We put together care packages that included things like, fruit cups, gum, toothbrush, socks, hand warmers, Kleenex, and other basic essentials.  We put them in little red bags and my wife and I each took a couple of these bags and put them in our vehicles.  The idea was that when we would come upon homeless people in town, we could just give them a bag and know that it would be used for the intended purpose.  So far, I have given out 2 bags and, while I can only assume they appreciated them, I know that through showing compassion, it filled my heart with love and joy that spilled out through the rest of each of those days.

When I think about what it means to be compassionate, I think of those care bags, the homeless people, I gave them to, and the many others in similar situations.  Helping others is one of the most basic Christian tenets.

I want us to take a minute to ask ourselves the following two questions:

What does the word compassion mean to you?

Why is it important for Christians to show compassion for others?

God’s compassion for us is greater than we can possibly fathom.  We need to always remember and be thankful for the gift of salvation that God gave us, even though we did not deserve it.  We can reflect our thankfulness to God by being compassionate to those in need around us.  They are God’s children also,

Make the decision to give somebody a hand, whether a pat on the back, kind words, or something g more substantial.  You’ll never know what it might mean to others.

 

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How to React to Difficult Times

difficult times

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me.  You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

– Walt Disney

 

Who among us has not been kicked in the teeth by life?  We all have.  It’s a wonder we aren’t all wearing dentures. Like a pop-up violent thunderstorm on an otherwise beautiful day, this is how we grow as people.  Or, it’s how we fall apart.  Finding courage amongst the rubble is the key that unlocks our growth.  How we react means everything.

My wife Steph and I fell into one of these storms.  Some of it was our own doing, and some of it stemmed from having our first child, Matthew.  Marriage can be a difficult thing even when things are going good.  If you pile on all the responsibilities, short nights, and trying to figure out how to be a parent for the first time, things can seem pretty overwhelming.  Both Steph and I were focusing our time and energy on Matthew and not as much on each other.  This is natural to do this for first-time parents, but by not devoting enough time on each other, a separation started to form between us.  There was a lot of frustration and resentment on both of our parts.  It took some serious soul-searching and work on both of our parts to get things back to a state where we could co-exist in a more civil, loving, and less self-centered manner.

This wedge that formed between us could have led to the end of our marriage, but instead, we choose to rise above and learn from our situation and put in the work needed to stay together.  We are not fully past it, and we still have days we don’t see eye-to-eye, but we are in a much better place than we were.  Marriage is hard, but so worth everything you put into it.

How do we react in life’s hard moments?  Here is some advice I would offer anyone facing difficult times.

Find the High Road and Stay There

After the rescue, damage control is the first thing to do in an emergency.  If a building is burning, the attempt is made to contain the fire to that one location.  Our initial reactions to tough moments are going to determine how much worse it gets.  If we lash out in anger and act irrationally, the whole block is going to be set on fire.  Breathe. Find the high road and immediately place yourself on it.  Experience is a great teacher.  If you’ve ever burned a block down figuratively, you know.  Only a fool would do that again.

Self-Analyzing and Correcting

This is a critical step in personal growth.  It requires honest self-awareness and taking responsibility for our actions. Once the event is contained, it’s time to analyze deeply where and what went wrong.  How did our behavior help or hinder the situation?  Where were we at fault?  Most importantly, what are the valuable lessons we can learn from this moving forward?

Learning How to Forgive

If you’re familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, you know that within it, we ask to be forgiven.  We are all good at that. However, the very next sentence, we also pledge to be the one forgiving.  Therein lies the key to moving on to happier moments.  Holding grudges and seeking revenge are first-rate life destroyers.  It’s common sense.  The best revenge is living well.  That means forgiving, even if it’s only for your own benefit.

Choose Your Friends Wisely

What parent hasn’t uttered this to their children?  Do we heed our own advice?  We should be loving and friendly to all people.  However, the people we surround ourselves with will directly reflect the type of life we are leading. Being a performer of fine art and cultural significance is a wonderful thing.  Living drama in real life is a much different story.  Separate the two and learn from poor choices.

Finding the Courage to Move Forward

It’s hard.  Whenever we are in one of these moments, things seem worse than they are.  It feels like the whole world has crashed down.  How are we going to keep going?  What will we do now?  Walt Disney went on to become Walt Disney.  Pretty substantial.  He had the courage to move to the next.  At one of my lowest points in life, my dad told me, “Son, there isn’t much advice I can give you right now.  All I can tell you is that you keep moving forward.  You wake up.  You get dressed.  You eat.  You go to work.  You go to sleep.  And repeat.  It always gets better, I promise.”

Life is a roller coaster of emotions.  There are some euphoric highs, but there are also lows.  No one likes to experience the lows, but remember, we learn some of life’s greatest lessons during the difficult times.  If we can face our difficult times head on and find the high road, self-analyze, correct, learn how to forgive, choose our friends wisely, and find the courage to move forward, we will find that we almost always end up in a better place than before the storm hit us.

Sometimes a door has to close before another door will open.  If difficult times never come, it is very hard to grow and become a better person.  I think Walt had it right all along.  I think all of us need a kick in the teeth from time to time.

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Forgiveness: It’s More Than You Think

forgiveness2

So, let’s say that you’ve been wronged…wronged by your spouse, child, close friend or co-worker.  You thought you could count on them.  You thought you could trust them.  They let you down.  It hurts.  The pain runs deep inside you.  What makes things worse, you didn’t deserve it.  You didn’t deserve the deed.  It wasn’t your fault. Every day the painful video plays inside your head.  You cannot erase it from your mental hard drive.  Bitterness, resentment, and anger all start to flood your emotions.

How can you be released from this hurt?  What can be done?

Well, you’ve got a couple of choices.  And only one is the right choice.  You can choose to hold on to the hurt and spend the rest of your life with the pain, bitterness, and anger.  Or, you can choose to be released from it, healed and freed.  It’s a decision to forgive the person who has hurt you.

There are a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about forgiveness.  So before I share with you what forgiveness really is, let me tell you what forgiveness is not.

What Forgiveness is Not

  • Forgiveness is not a feeling.  If it were, we would rarely forgive others because we would not “feel” like it.
  • Forgiveness is not a weakness.  A lot of strength is required to acknowledge pain, declare it, and forgive it.
  • Forgiveness does not mean pretending it didn’t happen or hiding from it.
  • Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.  The phrase “forgive and forget” is not reality.
  • Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing a wrong.  And it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. We can forgive the person without excusing the act.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling.  Reconciliation may follow forgiveness, but we can forgive an offender without reestablishing the relationship.
  • Forgiveness is not based on the wrongdoer’s actions.  Even if the other person never apologizes and asks for forgiveness, we should forgive.
  • Forgiveness is not conditional.  It’s not an If you do this…this…and this, then, and only then, I will forgive you.
  • Forgiveness is not justice.  Justice usually involves an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, an apology, and some form of reward or punishment.  Forgiveness should occur whether justice is withheld or not.
  • Forgiveness is not about changing the other person, their actions, or their behavior.
  • Forgiveness does not mean trust.  Forgiveness should be freely given, trust must be earned.   Trust must be built with consistent truth-telling over a period of time.

Forgiveness is not about changing the past, it’s about changing the future.  Forgiveness accepts and addresses the past but focuses on the future.  It looks toward a future of healing and hope.

So let’s talk about what forgiveness really is.

What Forgiveness Is

It is a decision.  When you really forgive someone, you are making a decision to release, embrace, pardon, and grow.

  1. A Decision to Release

In the process of forgiving, the first barrier you have to remove is within your own mind.  You must make the decision: I will not dwell on this incident.  Don’t replay the incident in your mind.  I realize that is easy to say but hard to do.  When that reel begins to play in your mind, intentionally push the Stop button.  Realize that it will not make things better, dwell on what is good, and ask God to give you the strength to withstand the onslaught of those attacks on your mind.

When you forgive, you are also proactively choosing to release your bitterness, resentment, vengeance, and anger toward the person who has hurt you.

  1. A Decision to Embrace

When you truly forgive, you are intentionally embracing mercy and grace.  Putting it simply, mercy is not giving someone what they deserve.  Grace is giving someone what they don’t deserve.  Why show this person who has deeply hurt you mercy and grace?  For two reasons. First, because God extends His perfect mercy and grace to you.  And He showers His perfect love upon you…every time, all the time.  Second, remember the Golden Rule?  It basically says: Treat others as you want to be treated.  So when you make a bad mistake, when you hurt someone, when you wrong someone, how do you want to be treated?

  1. A Decision to Pardon

Webster’s Dictionary defines pardon as “an act of officially saying that someone who was judged to be guilty of a crime will be allowed to go free and will not be punished.”  Once someone is pardoned or acquitted in a court of law, they cannot be tried again for the same offense.  That’s called double jeopardy.  So when you choose to pardon your offender by forgiving them, you are letting go of your right to punish them for the offense in the future.  You are basically saying, I will not bring this incident up again and use it against you.  In so doing, you are choosing to hold onto the person, not the offense.

My wife, Stephanie and I have forgiven each other for various offenses and hurts in our relationship—or at least we thought we did.  There have been occasions where one of us has brought up a past offense the other thought was pardoned only to find that court was still in session on the issue.  Real forgiveness must involve a complete pardon.

  1. A Decision to Grow

When you forgive, you are taking away the power the wrongdoing wields over you and using that power towards your growth, perhaps the growth of your relationships.  You are making the statement: I will not allow this matter to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.  Think of forgiveness as something that will change your life—by bringing you peace, emotional and spiritual healing, and hope—and, hopefully, the life of the one you have forgiven.

Forgiveness is hard.  I like to say that if it was easy, everyone would do it.  When I forgive someone, it makes me appreciate the fact that God forgives me for all my sins and all the pain and agony Jesus went through so that my sins and those of all of us could be pardoned.  Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  If Jesus could go through that, the least I can do is to forgive those who wrong me.

Forgiveness is a decision we make to release, embrace, pardon, and grow.  More importantly, it is a gift, a gift from God, that if we choose to accept and do for others, will bring us closer to Him and our Eternal Home.

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Follow in the Footsteps of Jesus

footsteps

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)

11 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Our society tends to distrust authority figures.  We’ve seen leaders caught in lies and scandals, and established institutions often seem to fail us.  So how do we process Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1 to “imitate me”?

Paul was talking about gospel-centered transformation.  The Holy Spirit shapes us into the image of Christ as we learn to trust our Savior and follow His example.  We grow through prayer and Bible study, but also by living in community with the body of Christ and by watching those who walk closely with Him.

In Judaism, it was common for students to literally follow a master teacher and observe how he lived.  Jesus called 12 men to follow Him in His earthly ministry.  Before He ascended, He promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them.

John 16:13 (NIV)

13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1 literally meant “whatever you see of Jesus in Paul, imitate that.”  The Lord can use mature believers in the body of Christ not only to provide encouragement, rebuke, and edification, but also to set an example.  We need to make it a habit to look for glimpses of grace in the lives of the godly believers who are surrounding us today in our time.

Matthew Henry was a Nonconformist minister who spent the majority of his life preaching in England.  He once said, “Follow me as far as I follow Christ.  Come up as close as you can to my example in those instances wherein I endeavor to copy after his pattern.  Be my disciples, as far as I manifest myself to be a faithful minister and disciple of Christ, and no further.  I would not have you be my disciples.”  It seems to me that he had a pretty good handle on his role as a mentor to those around him.

I would like us to consider a few questions this week:

Who are some people worth imitating?

What Christ like qualities do you see in them?

What’s the difference between following someone’s example and unhealthy adoration?

Yes, we need to follow Jesus, but we also need to follow mature believers in our circles.  God designed us to help each other grow together.

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Softening Our Hearts Through God

heart 2

Psalm 25 (NIV)

In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust.

I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
    He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
    and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
    he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
    for only he will release my feet from the snare.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
    and how fiercely they hate me!

20 Guard my life and rescue me;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
    because my hope, Lord, is in you.

22 Deliver Israel, O God,
    from all their troubles!

 

When we are continually on our faces before God and seek Him in His Word, His presence will saturate our hearts, making it sensitive and teachable.  Just as a marriage relationship can begin to grow cold unless proactive steps are taken daily to keep it warm, our hearts can gradually harden when we aren’t seeking intimacy with God.  We must also obediently, and promptly, respond to whatever He tells us to do so that our hearts will stay soft and receptive.  Then it won’t take much for the Lord to get our attention, and when He convicts us of our sin, we will want to deal with the problem right away instead of letting it grow like a cancer within us.  This is why we must walk in the Spirit moment by moment.

If we believe that God might be leading us in a certain direction, we need to take the time to earnestly seek His mind on the matter, and open our hearts to listen to Him.  We need to guard ourselves from getting too busy with a substitute for what He originally called us to do.

It would be tragic to work extra hard doing what we, and others, consider to be good, only to discover that our effort was expended in accomplishing something that was not God’s intention.  Resisting the Lord often amounts to putting our lives on the shelf, which leaves us feeling that something is missing.  There is no substitute for God’s will, even when His plan might seem difficult or impossible.  But when we trust God with a cooperative heart, there is no limit to what God can do through our lives.

Psalm 25 is a good passage to read each day this week.  If we can begin to internalize what it is saying, it can change how we view our potential relationship with God.

Some of us need to make a decision today to say, “Lord, I want Your will, no matter what.”

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The Original Sin of Social Media

meme

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Pfeiffer syndrome.  It’s a rare genetic disorder that’s characterized by the premature fusion of certain bones in the skull.  This fusion prevents further growth of the skull and affects the shape of the head and face.

This rare condition was the subject of a recent blog that raised important questions about our fallen human nature and how social media can be the occasion for sin.

Alice Ann Meyer’s four-year-old son Jameson was born with Pfeiffer syndrome.  For the past several years Meyer has been chronicling her experience with Jameson in a blog entitled Jameson’s Journey.

Three years ago she posted a photo of a happy Jameson with his face smeared with the remains of s’mores.  To Meyer’s horror, people posted the picture on social media sites such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook with the caption “Your pug…is amazing.”  Almost as bad as that were the thousands of “likes” the picture and the caption received.

Meyer asked the social media sites to remove the picture and caption and they complied.  But like a demonic whack-a-mole, no sooner would one site remove the picture than it would appear somewhere else.

She took these people on head-on at her blog saying, “You stole a photo of my four-year-old son.”  She continued, “Say what you want out loud, to your friends, in the comments box, but do not take my photo to degrade my child.”  And then she challenged them to understand what they were laughing at by talking about Jameson and explaining what Pfeiffer syndrome is.

When I first heard about this story, my first response was disbelief.  “How can people do something like this?  This is just a child and they can’t help it.”  Then I thought about original sin, which G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, called “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”

The original sin, or human fallenness, includes a capacity for cruelty and injustice towards their fellow-man.  And for many of us, this capacity hovers just below the surface of our existence.

A large part of what restrains our sin are institutions like the Church, our families, government, and our communities.

This brings me to social media.  The anonymity of social media undermines the operation of these institutions.  Friends and family cannot hold you accountable if they don’t know what you’re saying or doing.  Shame has no meaning to someone hiding behind a username.  And of course virtually none of the people who trampled over Jameson’s dignity would have done so if they were face-to-face with him and his mom.

Please understand that I am not saying that social media is all bad.  Social media can be a very good thing, if it is used correctly.  Social media itself is like money in that it, in itself, is not inherently good or bad.  It is how we choose to use it that determines that.  But it’s also true that Christians are called to avoid those circumstances that, because of their structure, incite or entice us to sin.  And it’s indisputable that social media often brings out the worst in people.

I am not saying that Christians should not use social media.  I love Facebook.  It allows me to stay in touch with people who I might not normally be able to.  It help me remember people’s birthdays.  It gives me a forum for posting quotes and Scripture verses that my friends can see regularly.  I have heard from many of them who have told me that this has been a source of positive influence on their lives.  I love that.  It is an easy way for me to help people.  What I am saying is that we need to use responsibility with it.  We need to avoid saying negative things.  We need to be sure we fully understand what we’re posting before we post it.

While I doubt that anyone reading this blog would have mocked the photo of Jameson, I’m equally certain that many of us have said or done things in social media that we now regret, which is why we may want to carefully reconsider our own use of social media or at the very least, how we are currently using it.

While it is true that every one of us fallen humans are capable of great evil, we are also, because we are made in God’s image, capable of great good.  In fact, Alice Ann Meyer says she received an enormous outpouring of support as she stood up for her son and for children with Pfeiffer syndrome.  In thanking those folks, Alice Ann wrote, “The message of choosing kindness, and treating every single person with dignity and respect is one that you have empowered me to champion.”

This is just another reminder that good can come out of any evil.  And that should give each of us hope.  Those are the stories that should be posted on social media.

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Being Generous Brings Blessings

generosity

Proverbs 11:17-28 (NIV)

17 Those who are kind benefit themselves,
    but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.

18 A wicked person earns deceptive wages,
    but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.

19 Truly the righteous attain life,
    but whoever pursues evil finds death.

20 The Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse,
    but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.

21 Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished,
    but those who are righteous will go free.

22 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
    is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.

23 The desire of the righteous ends only in good,
    but the hope of the wicked only in wrath.

24 One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
    another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

25 A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

26 People curse the one who hoards grain,
    but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.

27 Whoever seeks good finds favor,
    but evil comes to one who searches for it.

28 Those who trust in their riches will fall,
    but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.

This passage presents a contrasting picture of right and wrong, good and evil, generosity and stinginess.  Generosity is clearly aligned with righteousness and kindness.

One in every six verses in the first three Gospels wither directly or indirectly relates to money and how we handle it.

Sixteen of Jesus’ 44 parables (more than a third) deal with the use or misuse of money.  Our joyful giving to others is a measure of our gratitude and obedience to the Lord.  What we spend our money on is a pretty clear indicator of where our hearts are.

There is a BIG bonus when it comes to living a life of generosity.  The bonus is that God often blesses us when we bless others.

Randy Alcorn said, “God doesn’t make us rich so we can indulge ourselves and spoil our children…God gives us abundant material blessing so that we can give it away, and give it generously.”  I couldn’t agree more.  But agreeing with something and doing it is a completely different mater.

A recent magazine article told the story of a church in South Dakota, and its project called “Pass it Forward.”  Once a month, a church family receives an envelope in the mail with a small amount of cash inside.  They are to find someone in need and use the money to help or encourage others.  It’s not the amount of money, but the generosity, and often the hope or joy, that such an unexpected blessing brings when someone is surprised by our gifts.

Be prayerful and creative in your generosity.  Give an anonymous cash gift to a family in need.  Pay for a policeman’s or soldier’s meal. But some groceries for a single mom.  Write off the debt of a friend who’s struggling.  Generosity isn’t always measured in dollars and cents, but it reflects our gratitude and obedience to God.

Can you recall a time when you were blessed by someone’s generosity?

What are some ways you could show generosity to others in the coming week?

I want to challenge each of us to find some way that we can give generously to someone in need.  Even a small gift of love can have a profound impact on someone’s life.  And that simple act can have a profound impact on your soul.  I am a firm believer that it is impossible to be sad and depressed when you are doing something kind for another person.  Generosity is the cheapest antidepressant you will ever find.

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