Our God is referred to in scripture as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). So not only does God feel our pain when we are hurting, but also God reaches out to us and provides what we need to deal with the pain. I want to encourage you to reach out to God when you are hurting. God understands. God cares. God comforts. Thanks be to God!
reflections on Matthew 8-9
“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth” (Matthew 9:9).
When Matthew’s account of the sermon concludes, the crowd is amazed at the teaching of Jesus. Jesus was different. The sermon was different. This was not the kind of teaching they normally heard. You get the sense they were not only amazed, but refreshed as well.
This morning I have been watching Jesus as he descended from the mountain. I am struck by what catches Jesus’ eye. Jesus doesn’t seem affected by the large crowd that followed, a crowd that might be described as “adoring.” In fact, Jesus seems to be taking evasive action to escape the pressing throng. Clearly his words directed at them are more challenging than pandering.
Jesus had taken time to address the crowd as he preached, but after the sermon something else caught his eye. People. Individual people caught the eye of Jesus. And the people catching the attention of Jesus were those many would consider a distraction, maybe even a burden. People with problems. People with messy lives. People with needs. People who were not lined up to tell Jesus how amazing he was, but people who were lined up to get something they needed from Jesus.
Jesus may have made an evasive move to escape the adoring crowd, but here he walks right into one encounter after another with needy, messy people. A man with leprosy, that disease. A soldier of that army. A sick mother-in-law of that impetuous friend. A group who wanted a relationship with Jesus, but didn’t want to make that tough decision. A couple of violent demon hosts who lived in that graveyard. A paralyzed man on a mat being watched by that bunch of religious watchdogs. A tax collector who domineered for that government. A disciple of John with that list of questions. A dead girl from that family of oppressors. A sick woman with that disease of uncleanness. A couple of blind man who want stop that yelling. A mute with that demon.
Jesus saw them. Jesus saw them all. Jesus saw them as individuals. Jesus saw them as people. Jesus saw them not as a distraction, but as the creation of the Almighty.
Today they will be all around me, too. People. Hurting people. Messy people. Distracting people. Interrupting people. People that have been marginalized. People that have been neglected. People that have been shunned. People that have been labeled hopeless. Yes, they will be all around me. They will be in my path.
Jesus saw them. The question is, will I?
“It takes compassion to own a part of yourself that you previously disowned, ignored, hated, denied, or judged in others. It takes compassion to accept being human, and having every aspect of humanity within you, good and bad. Ultimately when you open your heart to yourself, you will find you have compassion for everything and everybody.”
–Debbie Ford in The Dark Side of the Light Chasers
“The truest sympathy is found in those who, with the strength of love, come out of the sunshine into the gloom and dimness of others, to touch their wounds tenderly, as though their own nerves throbbed with pain.”
–Fulton Sheen in Guide to Contentment
Last week I saw numerous street people in downtown Panama City, Panama. I thought of this story about the compassion of Mother Teresa.
“Mother Teresa of Calcutta has a dream — that before they die all people will know that they are loved. She devotes her life to making this dream a reality.
She tells a story of walking past an open door and catching a glimpse of something moving in it. She investigated and found a dying man whom she took back to a home where he could die in love and peace.
‘I live like an animal in the streets,’ the man told her. ‘Now I will die like an angel.’
‘How wonderful to see a person die in love,’ she exclaims, with the joy of love, the perfect peace of Christ on his face.'”
–From Words to Love by Mother Teresa
Open my eyes.
Open my heart.
Let me see them.
Let me care.
Fill me with Your compassion.
Fill me with Your love.
In Jesus’ name,
I am enjoying reading Good Shepherds More Guidance for the Gentle Art of Pastoring which includes helpful essays on matters like “Paul, The Elders, and Spiritual Formation,” “Doctrinal Disagreement: Must It Be War?,” and “When Worlds Collide: Clashing Spiritual Styles in Church.”
One essay that caught my attention was written by Virgil Fry who is a hospital chaplain who spends much of his time at M. D. Anderson. Perhaps this caught my attention because sometimes we just don’t know what to say to someone who is in pain or grieving. His essay, entitled “Shepherding the Seriously Ill and Grievers,” included the following suggestions for alternative responses to support someone in crisis:
Instead of: It’s probably not as bad as it seems.
Try: What helps you get through tough times?
Instead of: Just pray harder.
Try: Are there spiritual issues I can help you with?
Instead of: You shouldn’t dwell on the negative.
Try: It’s hard to find anything good at times like this, isn’t it?
Instead of: I don’t understand why you are so upset.
Try: Help me understand what you are going through.
Instead of: The more you talk about it the worse you’ll feel.
Try: Let me be your sounding board for a while.
Instead of: Don’t you know it could always be worse?
Try: It probably seems very overwhelming right now to you.
Instead of: You’ve got to keep smiling and look for the positive.
Try: I’m impressed that you are able to keep going.
Instead of: Where’s your faith?
Try: Sometimes our faith journey takes mysterious routes, doesn’t it?
Instead of: Everything happens for a good purpose.
Try: Right now it’s probably hard to see any good coming out of this.
Instead of: Just count your blessings.
Try: In spite of everything, you seem to have much going for you.
Instead of: You need to stay busy with other things.
Try: May I help you talk through your options?
Instead of: Here’s a professional counselor you should call.
Try: Would you consider seeking additional help?
Instead of: I know lots of people who’ve dealt with that.
try: Sometimes it helps to find some others who have survived the same thing.
Instead of: You know we’re not supposed to ask why.
Try: Isn’t it amazing how many people of faith also struggled with why?
I hope these suggestions will be helpful to you, as they were to me. May God give us the patience to be quiet when we can help best by listening, words to say when we can help best by talking, and the wisdom to know when to be quiet and when to talk.
Abilene Christian University had their 90th Annual Bible Lectureship this week. My children, who both attend ACU’s Graduate School of Theology, both called me this week to gush about some of the great messages they heard in both keynote sessions and classes.
My son Keith called right after he left a class taught by a minister from Dallas named Ken Greene. He had been touched by the story of one church doing whatever they could to bring about justice in their community.
The next day The Abilene Reporter-News reported on the class, printing an article entitled, Tiny Church Racks Up Victories.
The work of this congregation in seeking justice for the community (a topic straight out of the Old Testament prophets) is such an inspiration. I don’t see how you can read about what they did without asking “What can I do right where I am?”
I hope you have time to read the article I have linked above.