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, June 3

“Another Pair of Shoes – Part 2”

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

28 days ago, I wrote a devotion entitled, “Another Pair of Shoes.” The day was May 6th and it was devotion #52. I shared the story of an elderly white woman who lived in Minnesota. As I read her story, I figured many of us, men and women alike, could relate. Gloria Jackson had no health, hunger or shelter issues. But she was single, alone and considered high risk regarding the coronavirus. In the article, she described her physical setting, her emotional struggles, her spiritual wrestling and brewing anger. I heard back from many of you. You could relate to her story and were walking in similar shoes. I also felt that it was important that those who do not share these same struggles, recognize another pair of shoes.

This last week, we have been overwhelmed by another story that has come out of Minnesota. The pain, anger, rage and frustration that has been unleashed over George Floyd’s death, indicates just how many people are walking in these shoes. This story and these feelings of this type of injustice are probably not very familiar to most of us. To wear these shoes, it will require us to open our heart, listen carefully and learn a story very different than our own. It is a call to empathy. It is not a call to sympathy but rather to understand more clearly the feelings of other human beings.

The call to understand the feelings and conditions of another is difficult. Yet this is the call of the Christian. We are directed to carry one another’s burdens. Christ carried our burdens, and as followers of Christ, we are called to carry on Christ’s mission and help lift the burdens of others. Much of the world’s story, in all reality, is different than our own. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us accomplish this call. And we are promised that He will do this.

The disciples faced many challenges in trying to carry out Christ’s call. Much of their world, as with ours, was deeply shaped by racism. Racism, by definition is, “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Jews held judgments against gentiles. Jews held prejudices against Samaritans. The Romans displayed outright antagonism towards the Jews. Racism circled and swirled around these people groups just as they still do today in the Middle East and around the world.  

Jesus certainly found himself in the middle of racist judgments. Sometimes I think we forget about the painful shoes he would have worn. Jesus grew up in a small town, born to an unwed mother. He was raised by a father in which the community would have judged him weak. Jesus grew up on the wrong side of the tracks – he grew up in Nazareth. And as the story goes, “nothing good comes from Nazareth.” As a man, Jesus was labeled a radical, targeted as a troublemaker, and judged to be in opposition to God. He was accused of driving out demons in partnership with Beelzebub. He was listed as a threat. He was charged with heresy. He was illegally arrested, beaten and retained in jail. He was falsely accused, falsely arrested and falsely crucified.

Jesus lived his entire life under the weight of racism. Yet, this is in part why he knows our human story so well. Jesus became fully human so that he could know the entire drama. Because of his becoming fully human, he clearly knows humanities hurts, pains, weakness and frustrations. He knows an elderly white woman’s isolation and loneliness. And he also knows the pain and injustice of the African American community. And he truly knows your particular pains and hurts that you are struggling with at this very moment.

Jesus not only knows our pain, he also came to bind up all those who are brokenhearted.

700 years before Jesus took on our story, the prophet Isaiah identified the role, character and call of the coming Messiah. He declared, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” (Isaiah 61:1)

Matthew 9:36 reveals Jesus’ heart towards hurting people. Matthew records, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus felt the pain. He recognized people’s hopelessness. And he healed them.

May God help us maintain a heart of compassion and point all those who are hurting to the Good Shepherd who can bind up any wound.

Two days ago, I heard Ray Roberts, a former Seattle Seahawk football player, share his story on the radio. His story is very different than my story. His story is powerful, painful, and provokes me to want to know more. I am thankful to be exposed to another pair of shoes. I hope you will find his story helpful as well.

God Bless You!

Pastor Mark

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Ray Roberts Shares his truth as a black American.

I first want to say thank you to those that are down for the cause and willing to sacrifice more than their words to create change. I am not a fan of the looting, robbing, stealing and violence, however I am unapologetic as it relates to the intensity of the peaceful protesters and the discomfort it may produce for those sitting on their hands and finding every excuse imaginable and choosing to be distracted from the underlying issues.

This is my truth – agree, disagree, or agree to disagree, I really do not care. My truth does not represent the truth of all African Americans, but it was influenced by similar and often the same life experiences we all share. I have a lot on my mind and most of it is fueled by anger, frustration, disappointment and sadness, so what I’m going to say is what’s on my mind at the moment. I would like to take this time to paint a picture that I hope will replace the images of the last few days and lead to a level of understanding, sympathy and empathy, and actionable, measurable change. I do not have all the answers and this is not intended to help you figure out what to do. That’s your work.

In 1619, the first Africans were kidnapped and brought to this country. They landed on the shores of Virginia, a place called Point Comfort of all places, and were auctioned off and sold into slavery. From that moment, the blood that ran through the veins of this country did not run for us. The heartbeat of this country did not beat for us. We were never intended to share in its success or live freely within its borders. Think about that, then consider this. Enoch Waters, who graduated from Hampton University in 1933 and worked for the Chicago Defender, the nation’s largest black daily newspaper, and became the editor of the Associated Negro Press, wrote a piece entitled “The Only American.” It reads: “The black man is the only American who came here not seeking freedom, because he had been robbed of it. Not looking for a home, because he had been snatched from his. Not as a fugitive from persecution, because it awaited him. Not in search of opportunity, because it was beyond his reach. Not in pursuit of happiness, because he had left it behind. Not hoping for love, because there was none for him. And not willingly, because he came as a slave in chains.”

Think about that. Paint that picture in your mind and sit with it.

Also sit with this: There were multiple generations of black people born in this country that never experienced freedom. I will say it again: There were multiple generations of black people born in this country that never experienced freedom.

Fast forward to the life and times of my grandfather, Warren Henry Roberts. He served and fought for this country. He fought for freedoms and rights that he did not have access to in this country. When he returned home, he was still called the n-word. He could not eat in the same restaurants or drink from the same water fountains as his fellow white soldiers. He could not sit in the same classrooms or live in the same neighborhoods. The back door was still the expected entrance to most establishments. He did not have the same access to healthcare, education, jobs or housing that the white soldiers had. He could be beaten or even murdered for just looking at a white woman, and many of the perpetrators of these actions were white dudes who fought alongside him. So when I think about Colin Kaepernick kneeling and all of the shouts are ‘He’s disrespecting the flag, the military and this country,’ my blood boils. Our sacrifice for this country is unmatched, and it’s not even close.

Now fast forward to the life and times of my father, Richard Ray Roberts Sr., and my uncles – and in this moment I don’t want to forget all the black women who suffer the most when black men are snatched from their lives and they’re not fathers, they’re not providers, they’re not husbands and they’re not someone to love on. They were denied opportunities, were tormented and had to face and endure blatant racism and hate, and had to bite, scratch and claw for limited resources and essential jobs. It saddens me to know that my dad’s best self was diminished and limited because of systems, mindsets and people who did not value him as a man or as a human.

Then I think of my life. The things I’ve seen. As a kid I witnessed Klan marches in my town. The summer before ninth grade while on a bike ride with my cousin, I was chased by a group of white dudes. I crashed and broke my wrist. I missed the beginning of the football season because of it. And I cannot count the number of times I’ve been called the n-word. My mother was told by my elementary school principal that I should attend a college that focused on football because I would never graduate from the University of Virginia. I felt like I wasn’t completely welcome at the University of Virginia. Even as a player in the NFL while a member of the Detroit Lions, I was pulled over and asked to explain how I could afford such a nice car, or what work did I do to afford it. I was also stopped through my own neighborhood and asked why was I there. I was stopped in Redmond, Wash., just a little ways from my home, and asked if I was lost.

Then I think of more recent things, like athletes being told to stick to sports or players being called SOBs by the president. To African American men being murdered by those who are sworn to protect. When it comes to people of color and protests or push back in this country, it more times than not is met with force and aggression, while whites toting guns, assault rifles and who knows what else are free to move about and within a state capitol building, screaming in the faces of law enforcement and taunting them. Then I think to white mass shooters being apprehended alive and even taken to Burger King or even taken water to be made comfortable. And I see black men have died for selling cigarettes and CDs, while being stopped for a traffic violation, being killed while in cuffs, and like Mr. Floyd begging to breathe and shouting out for the comfort and safety of his already deceased mother. I can’t help but have images of slaves being beaten and hung to death, begging and shouting out for the comfort and safety of their motherland.

I could go on and on.

I believe and feel that what we are seeing and witnessing in this moment is an uncovering or exposing of a wound that was never meant to be tended to nor healed. We were expected to lay down, obey, fall in line, or bleed out. And honestly, guys, there is financial gain for some to keep it that way. CNN, FOX, other sports outlets, other media outlets and platforms all feed the beast. They lack cultural and racial representation, cultural awareness and competence, and engage in divisive language, opinions and programming because it drives listenership, and that fills bank accounts. It’s like a competition or sport in and of itself – who can be the most outrageous, the most controversial, the most divisive. It has become a game to gain the most listeners so that they can pat themselves on the back and feel good about their ratings and put money in their pockets, and although I appreciate the opportunity to speak freely on this station, Bonneville is just as guilty.

So to close, this is bigger than George Floyd, or Trayvon Martin, or Ferguson, or Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcom X. This is about a historical mindset and system that was never, never intended to benefit us, and we were never expected to defeat it or overcome it. And to those of you who are participating in the riots: Know that there are those who see this as an opportunity to destroy, rob and steal. Know that there are those covertly involved to instigate so that the peaceful protestors are blamed. Know that destruction and violence is how the other side expects and wants you to respond, so that they can use these actions so that they can distract themselves from the real issues and use as an excuse not to hear us. Know that if they can’t hear us, they cannot be challenged to defeat their own biases, isms, flawed mindsets, perspectives and actions, and if they can’t do that, they can’t have their hearts changed. And if they can’t do that, then policies and laws do not change. And if that happens, the future is bleak and we continue to lose and injustice continues to prevail.

And to those on the other side: You know the game that is being played. You know what the issues are, and you are choosing to be distracted. By doing so, you protect your level of comfort, and your comfort will be the reason our country will never be its best self. Choose to engage the discomfort of putting in the work. Challenge and defeat yourselves. It is an individual and personal journey, and use your privilege, access, resources, influence, knowledge and power to help make a difference and deliver change.

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 1

“Empathy”

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.” Hebrew 4:15

 

An article in the Atlantic magazine highlights New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. The article contends that the 39 year old may be the most effective leader on the planet because her leadership style focuses on empathy.

The article continues, “Her messages to the country are clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing.” Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says, “People feel that Arden ‘doesn’t preach at them, she’s standing with them’”. She concludes, “There is a high level of trust and confidence in her because of that empathy.”

Not everyone agrees with her politics or policies. But if proof is in the pudding, New Zealand has presumably eliminated the country of Covid19 and people are free to move about the country. As a country, they acted quickly and deliberately. The people trusted the directives of their leaders and now they are reaping the benefits.

The writer of Hebrews says that we have one who has empathy toward the world. He writes, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been temped in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” He continues, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Jesus demonstrated empathy. So, what exactly is “empathy”?

Empathy is different than sympathy or compassion. Empathy goes deeper. Compassion and sympathy involve having concerned feelings for another person or situation. Empathy is going further than just feelings. Empathy is walking in the shoes of another person. Empathy is “feeling” their pain.

The Bible says that Jesus Christ, our high priest, has empathy towards us because he has walked in our shoes. He knows what we suffer and experience because he has fully lived as a human being. And because he has worn our shoes, we are encouraged to approach God’s throne with confidence because we will receive mercy and grace. Jesus knows. Jesus understands. Jesus feels our pain!

It seems like we could use a bit more empathy as we move closer to opening our economy in the United States. We need people to walk in other people’s shoes. Another scripture verse that points us in this direction is found in Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

There are pictures of people carrying signs declaring that Covid19 is a lie. Perhaps those people need to walk a few steps in the shoes of the doctors in downtown New York. I’m sure Dr. Lorna Breen, who tragically took her life due to ultimate physical and emotional pain, could have exposed them to radical pain inflicted by this virus. So also, government leaders need to walk in the shoes of those who have lost their jobs, savings, retirement and small business – and feel hopeless!

The presence of empathy, points to the quality and condition of one’s EQ – Emotional Quotient. For years, tests have been given to students, to discover their “IQ” – Intelligence Quotient. More and more studies are pointing to the importance of having a healthy “EQ”.  Healthy emotional wellbeing is what allows a person to weather storms. Emotional stability allows one to remain buoyant when pandemics, health issues, finances, business, and education is being tossed about. Faith is found in one’s “EQ” more so than one’s “IQ”.  We can be right in our minds theologically, but we can still be a mess spiritually.

Our hope is in the One who has empathy for us. He has put on our shoes and walked down our road. He also promised to send another One, the Comforter. The Spirit would slip on our socks, so to speak, and we would never walk alone.

After this pandemic, if we, as the church, are going to effectively share Jesus, it’s going to require that we lace up a pair of shoes other than our own. People are not going to care as much about our theology as much as our empathy. When we demonstrate that we care enough to feel other people’s pain and share their burdens, then they will be interested in what we believe. This goes for our family, friends, children and grandchildren.

People were drawn to Jesus. They were not drawn to him because he spoke a soft, comforting message. Jesus was straight and clear. He told people they would have to die and pick up their cross and leave everything behind to follow him. But people were drawn to him because he empathized with every single person he came in contact with. He connected on that deep level; emotionally, spiritually. He even empathized with the religious leaders and scribes. He prayed for their forgiveness, even when they took his life.  

Hebrews 2:17-18 states, “For this reason, he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Empathy means, “suffering together”. When we suffer together, trust and confidence grow. When trust and confidence grow, we overcome together.   

Pray that as a nation, we can move beyond blaming one another and pointing fingers. Let us stop, look and listen. Let us put on the shoes of our brothers and sisters who are facing challenges different than our own. Let us feel that pain, share that burden together, and grow in unity.

Let us follow our Leader, Jesus Christ, and lead with empathy!

If anyone is interested, I wear size 11, but I can squeeze into a 10.5. I’m ready to try on a pair of yours!   

God Bless You!

Pastor Mark