Pastor Mark’s Devotion 102 -Sept. 22

“Compassion”

“Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately, they received their sight and followed him.” Matthew 20:34

As Jesus made his way from Jericho to Jerusalem and was about to make his triumphal entry amidst cheering crowds and waving palm branches, he was met by two blind men. They shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.” The crowd rebuked them but Jesus called them to him. He asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord”, they answered, “We want to receive our sight.” The Bible says that Jesus had “compassion” on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Jesus showed compassion on all kinds of people. Considering all that is going on in our world, compassion might be a subject worth considering today. Would others consider us to be compassionate? Would our Stanwood community consider our congregation a compassionate church? What does it even truly mean to be “compassionate”?

The Biblical authors certainly saw Jesus as one who was compassionate. Four times in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is specifically referenced having shown compassion. Matthew states that as Jesus moved through all the towns and villages, he taught, preached and healed the sick. In summary, Matthew 9:36 says, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” In Matthew 14:14, prior to Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, it is recorded, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Again, in Matthew 15:32, prior to his feeding another crowd of 4,000, Jesus said, “I have compassion for these people, they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” Finally, in Matthew 20:34, when Jesus is confronted by the two blind men on the road outside of Jericho, Jesus had compassion on them, and gave them back their eyesight.

The Apostle Paul used the term, “compassion” in describing the character of God in the opening verses of 2 Corinthians. Paul states, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

In Romans chapter 9, St. Paul reminds his readers of God’s nature, that He first spoke to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15)

Then in the book of Colossians, Paul encourages believers, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion – as well as kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

Last week, I read a secular article regarding “Emotional Intelligence”. In the article, it stated one way of determining the strength of one’s emotional intelligence was the ability to differentiate between the terms; empathy, sympathy, and pity. The article stated that these terms are thrown around so liberally, that it might seem like an exercise in semantics. But understanding their different nuances can make a world of difference when dealing with the people around us.

 

I thought it might be interesting to consider this idea from a biblical perspective.

When the Bible states that Jesus had “compassion” with those around him, another word that could be used would be “empathy”. Empathy, by definition, is the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” The key to empathy is that it requires an “active engagement” with another person. It involves an action that places attention and focus upon another individual. Empathy seeks to “walk in the shoes of another”, but doesn’t assume that it already does so. Empathy includes opening one’s ears and heart, and truly listening to the conditions of another. Jesus actively engaged, listened, and put on the shoes of those he came in contact with. This is why he connected so deeply with so many.

Sympathy is defined more as an automatic or involuntary response. The focus is not so much upon the other individual but the association one has with the other’s conditions. You may sympathize with those who lost homes in the Creek Fire because you yourself have suffered a similar fate. But your sympathy is generated more from your own experience and less from an active engagement with those who have suffered the loss.

Pity is defined as the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others. Pity tends to look at another person as a victim. Pity is not an emotion that has one walking alongside another or wearing another’s shoes. Pity places a person above the other and does not connect persons through a shared experience.

As it is helpful to differentiate between the terms, empathy, sympathy and pity, it is also helpful to understand the similarity between the biblical terms, mercy and compassion.

God declares himself to be both merciful and compassionate. He will have mercy upon whom he has mercy, and compassion upon whom he has compassion. The common link between these two terms is “active engagement”. The word, Mercy, “hesed” in the Old Testament and “eleos” in the New Testament means literally, “To Relieve” or “To Bring Relief”. Mercy is to bring tangible, physical relief from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain or suffering. So, in Jesus’ parable of the “Unmerciful Servant” – when the King calls out the hard heartedness of his servant and states, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33) He is referring to the fact that he could have “relieved” his fellow servant of a physical, monetary debt.

Therefore, Mercy involves an “active engagement” in relieving the suffering of another person through a type of “act of kindness”. So also, compassion involves an “active engagement” in identifying and experiencing the suffering of another person in a tangible, emotional way.

The Greek root word for “compassion” points to a person’s bowels or intestines. One’s stomach gets twisted in knots because they identify with another’s pain. We can see this in Jesus when he arrives in Bethany after Lazarus, his dear friend has died. He meets Mary and feels her loss. John 11:33 records this moment. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was ‘deeply moved’ in spirit and ‘troubled.’ In the vernacular, we might say, “His guts were twisted inside out”. So much so, that Jesus wept and shed tears with them.

Consider today that we have a God who declares himself to be merciful and compassionate. In these trying times, we have a God who is “actively engaged” in our lives. His desire is to “bring relief” from all that troubles us. He walks alongside us. He not only knows our shoe size, he is on his knees, lacing them up for us, looking into our eyes, with a broad smile on his face. He is ready to listen with an open heart, and wants to connect in a tangible way.

Today, may this Father of compassion comfort you. And when the opportunity arises, may we comfort those with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 20

“Rebuilding”

“So, the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.” Nehemiah 6:15

 

Our state governors are beginning to open up economic activity in order to rebuild our economy. I thought it might be interesting to explore the actions of a governor who lived in a very different era. Nehemiah was a cupbearer who served King Artaxerxes in Persia around 445 B.C. He became governor of Judah and oversaw the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Jews returned from exile. Nehemiah’s name means, “Yahweh Comforts”. Not only did God bring comfort through Nehemiah, He also brought leadership, vision, resolve, strength, unity and perseverance to God’s people. Nehemiah was a great leader! Nehemiah led the Jews to do a miraculous work, rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in 52 days. This great effort would be met with great opposition.

As we seek to rebuild our economy, our community, our congregation and personal lives; much can be gleaned from this ancient leader. He followed the Ancient of Days, and restored the name of this ancient people.

The story begins as Nehemiah questioned his Jewish brothers about those who had survived the exile. He also inquired about the conditions of Jerusalem. When he heard the news that the people were in great trouble and the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, Nehemiah broke down and wept. Nehemiah exhibited great compassion and concern for his people. We are told that he mourned, fasted and prayed for days over the circumstances that faced his people. His compassion moved him to pray. All throughout the course of rebuilding, Nehemiah constantly turned to God in prayer. His prayer began with a declaration, supplication and confession. He prayed, “Let your ear be attentive and your eyes be open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.” He continued, “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you.” (Nehemiah 1:6)

Even before Nehemiah was called to action, this one who was going to rebuild Jerusalem, exhibited a heart of compassion, godliness and humility. These are key qualities for any leader wanting to rebuild.  Nehemiah closed his prayer by asking God to bless him and grant him success before the king. It is at this point in the story, that Nehemiah is described as a simple cupbearer to the king.

When Nehemiah was called to serve the king, he was sad and the king inquired of his sadness. Nehemiah described the living conditions of his people in Jerusalem. The king asked him what he wanted. Nehemiah replied, “Then I prayed to the God of heaven and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city of Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.’” (Nehemiah 2:5)

Nehemiah was very much afraid to voice his desire as it could be interpreted as disloyalty. But he did not let fear control his actions. He turned to God first, then openly confessed his will. The king was pleased with his request and gave him permission to go to Jerusalem. Before he left the king, Nehemiah also exhibited worldly wisdom. He asked the king to write a letter that would provide for his safe travel. He also asked for a letter granting him the authority to procure timber for the rebuilding of the wall. The king obliged. Nehemiah arrived safely and secured the resources to undertake the project.

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he waited three days before evaluating the full extent of the rebuild. Nehemiah demonstrated maturity and insight as he did not rush into action. He educated himself regarding the conditions and went at night to avoid any questions. After gaining a clear and complete picture of the challenges, he called the people together and cast the vision. He declared, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” (Nehemiah 2:17) Not only did Nehemiah cast the vision for the rebuild, but he also invited them to join in the effort. Then, he also expressed confirmation for the vision. He stated, “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.”

Because the vision was cast and the authority and confirmation had been given, the people were excited to jump on board. They said “Let us start rebuilding!” So, they began the good work.

Immediately, the people would face opposition. As Nehemiah led the charge to rebuild, he would face no less than 11 different conflicts that could potentially derail him. Through it all, Nehemiah continued to stand, turn to God in prayer, and communicate clearly to the people.

Sanballat, the Horonite, Tobiah, the Ammonite, and Geshem, the Arab continually tried to destroy the project. As their efforts failed, their threats escalated. They first began by mocking and ridiculing the Jews. (2:19) They grew angry and greatly incensed (4:1) as they continued to ridicule them. Sanballat said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?” Tobiah chimed in, “What they are building – if even a fox climbed upon it, he would break down their wall of stones.” (4:3)

Nehemiah continued to turn to God and prayed, “Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.” (4:4)

The people continued to build the wall so that all of it reached half its height. The people were fully committed and engaged in the project. But so too was the opposition. Their enemies plotted to come together and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.

Again, Nehemiah prayed. But this time he also posted a guard to protect the project both night and day.

Then the Jews began to complain that they were getting tired and there was too much rubble. They also feared the growing threats from their enemies. They said, “Our enemies said that before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” (4:11) They also heard from fellow Jews, over ten times, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”

Nehemiah, then stood up in Winston Churchill like fashion and said, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (4:14)

From that day on, half of the men did the work, while the other half stood guard equipped with spears, shields, bows, and armor. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other. The builders all wore swords at their sides while they worked.

Then there was an outcry from their Jewish brothers. Some were being starved. Some were being enslaved. And some were being left powerless. Nehemiah brought the people together.

So, Nehemiah called a large meeting to deal with this situation. He said, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? Let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them.” (5:9-10)

The brothers responded, “We will give it back. And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” (5:12)

Then Nehemiah called forth the nobles and officials so that they would take an oath. Nehemiah made the men accountable for their words and that they would follow through with action.

Nehemiah then addressed the whole general assembly. He explained that throughout this project, not once did he ever take the food allotted to him, as the governor. He never lorded his authority over the people – but rather, devoted himself to the work on the wall. Nehemiah took on a servant’s heart and sacrificed his own comforts for the sake of all the others and for the sake of the project.

Further opposition continued. They sent messages asking for Nehemiah to come meet with them. He said, “They were scheming to harm me; so, I sent messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down.” (6:2) Four times they sent the same message and each time he gave them the same reply.

Then his enemies bribed one of Nehemiah’s countrymen to have him hide in the temple in an attempt to ruin his reputation and discredit him. Nehemiah turned to prayer again, “Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.” (6:14)

After all the trials and tribulations, we hear the conclusion of Nehemiah’s efforts along with the Jewish people: “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” (6:15-16)

 

As we begin the rebuilding projects of our own. Let us learn from the leadership qualities of Nehemiah.

Let our name, as Christian, be known to bring Yahweh’s Comfort.

Let our hearts be filled with compassion, godliness and humility.

Let us be a people of prayer – confessing our sin and calling upon God who is attentive and faithful.

Let us not be afraid to ask and then to take action on behalf of others.

Let us not be surprised that we will face opposition in our efforts.

Let us be prepared, resolved, focused and inspired in a project greater than ourselves.

Let us clearly articulate the vision and exhort others to join in.

Let us call people together and care for one another equally.

Let us hold one another accountable.

Let us be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Let us not be intimidated.

Let us believe that with God all things are possible–even building an entire wall around the City of Jerusalem in 52 days.  

And in the end, whatever project we are involved in, let a testimony ring loud and clear, that all the work was done with the help of our God.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, March 30

It’s Monday, Let Us Pray”

“Our Father, Hallowed Be Thy Name…”

During last week’s taping of my sermon, a phone call interrupted my prayer. I forgot to silence my phone ahead of time. I also forgot to go back and re-tape the prayer. The last few weeks, I’ve written out a prayer so that it might be a little more intentional and comprehensive. I thought we might begin Monday with this prayer – and then conclude with Psalm 71 – two ways to turn our hearts to God and acknowledge Him as we begin a new week. God Bless You All! God goes before us!

Let us pray,

Heavenly Father, these are concerning times, these are uncertain times – fear and anxiety can sneak up on us. Let us remember that you are a God of Promise. You have made promises and agreements that we can hold on to in times like these:

-You have promised to ALWAYS BE WITH US!

-You have promised that YOU HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD!

-You have promised to HAVE PREPARED A PLACE FOR US!

-You have promised that IF WE SEEK YOU, WE WILL FIND YOU!

-You have promised that, IF WE ABIDE IN YOU, WHAT WE ASK, WE WILL RECEIVE!

-You have promised that, EVEN WHEN WE ARE UNFAITHFUL, YOU REMAIN FAITHFUL!

Thank you, Father, for your promises. Your Word is trustworthy and true.

We also pray that you make us one, Father even as you and Jesus are One. Even though we are separated by distance, unite us in deep union with you. Unite our country and communities. Guard and guide the people serving our communities and those who are sick. Have mercy upon us.

We pray for healing over those who are infected with this virus. We pray for those who have lost loved ones from this virus. We pray for continual protection over the care givers and health providers. We pray for containment and the quick development of an effective vaccine We pray that all people will practice “safe distancing” and take it seriously. We pray that medical equipment will be distributed in an effective manner to all the states and areas where these resources are needed. Direct our President, our Federal and state governments, governors and local leaders – that decisions will be well thought out and implanted to help our people in need.

We pray for parents, families, couples and individuals. Let us make the most of this pause – that we see opportunities more than obstacles.

And Father, we thank you for all the ways that love, kindness, and compassion is being demonstrated. Neighbor loving neighbor. Strangers helping strangers. Let it continue. Let it abound. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN. LET IT BE SO!

 

 

Receive the words from Psalm 71:19-24 New Living Translation (NLT)

19 Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens.
    You have done such wonderful things.
    Who can compare with you, O God?
20 You have allowed me to suffer much hardship,
    but you will restore me to life again

    and lift me up from the depths of the earth.
21 You will restore me to even greater honor
    and comfort me once again.

22 Then I will praise you with music on the harp,
    because you are faithful to your promises, O my God.
I will sing praises to you with a lyre,
    O Holy One of Israel.
23 I will shout for joy and sing your praises,
    for you have ransomed me.
24 I will tell about your righteous deeds
    all day long,

 

Yes, it is Monday. This is the day the Lord has made, let us claim joy and be glad in it!

P.S. – Share the joy – Sahara Pizza serves us half price pizza for Monday Take Out!!

Always trying to look out for you!

Love and Peace, Pastor Mark



 

“Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens. You have done such wonderful things. Who can compare with you, O God? You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again. Then I will praise you