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Henri Nouwen: Learn to Steal and Lift Up Real Joy

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:21-24

“I have a friend who is so deeply connected with God that he can see joy where I expect only sadness. He travels much and meets countless people. When he returns home, I always expect him to tell me about the difficult economic situation of the countries he visited, about the great injustices he heard about, and the pain he has seen. But even though he is very aware of the great upheaval of the world, he seldom speaks of it. When he shares his experiences, he tells about the hidden joys he has discovered. He tells about a man, a woman, or a child who brought him hope and peace. He tells about little groups of people who are faithful to each other in the midst of all the turmoil. He tells about the small wonders of God. At times I realize that I am disappointed because I want to hear “newspaper news,” exciting and exhilarating stories that can be talked about among friends. But he never responds to my need for sensationalism. He keeps saying: “I saw something very small and very beautiful, something that gave me much joy.” 

The father of the prodigal son gives himself totally to the joy that his returning son brings him. I have to learn from that. I have to learn to “steal” all the real joy there is to steal and lift it up for others to see. Yes, I know that not everybody has been converted yet, that there is not yet peace everywhere, that all pain has not yet been taken away, but still, I see people turning and returning home; I hear voices that pray; I notice moments of forgiveness, and I witness many signs of hope. I don’t have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint of the Kingdom that is at hand. 

This is a real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. I am tempted to be so impressed by the obvious sadness of the human condition that I no longer claim the joy manifesting itself in many small but very real ways. The reward of choosing joy is joy itself. Living among people with mental disabilities has convinced me of that. There is so much rejection, pain, and woundedness among us, but once you choose to claim the joy hidden in the midst of all suffering, life becomes celebration. Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to a fertile soil for more joy. 

Surely I will be called naive, unrealistic, and sentimental, and I will be accused of ignoring the “real” problems, the structural evils that underlie much of human misery. But God rejoices when one repentant sinner returns. Statistically that is not very interesting. But for God, numbers never seem to matter. Who knows whether the world is kept from destruction because of one, two, or three people who have continued to pray when the rest of humanity has lost hope and dissipated itself? 

From God’s perspective, one hidden act of repentance, one little gesture of selfless love, one moment of true forgiveness is all that is needed to bring God from his throne to run to his returning son and to fill the heavens with sounds of divine joy.”

Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal Son (The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition) 115-116.

Special thanks to my friend and brother, John Cochran, for not only sharing this with me, but saying that when he read this it made him think of me. What a blessing and encouragement.

We do, all of us, need to learn, as Nouwen puts it, to steal and lift up real joy. There’s lots of brokenness around us but God is working in powerful ways and giving us a reason to celebrate.

As we combine compassion and generosity in the journey of life, sometimes we meet people in suffering and sometimes we need to throw a party to lift up real joy to celebrate victories, both big and small.

I am excited about what God is doing in Central America, where I head tomorrow with Juan Callejas and Ereny Monir. Pray for us. We journey to a new country where God has opened a door first: El Salvador.

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Peggy Reynoso: Suffering

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 receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

“When life is hard, we cannot help but ask if this is the abundant life Jesus came to earth to give us. We will only experience full life in the glorious freedom that awaits us on the new earth and new heaven, but meanwhile, my life has tastes of the rich and bountiful living that He wants to give us, even in the terribly hard things. My instinct is to avoid suffering whenever possible, and when it can’t be avoided, to hold my breath until it goes away. But you can hold your breath for only so long, and I had to come up for air a long time ago. As we reject pain avoidance and choose to live fully in the midst of suffering—even if it means feeling more pain—we are opened up to God and experience His power in our pain. In a failed world, suffering is a key element to living life to the full.

I hear Christians say that God is good (because) “He delivered me from . . . ,” (because) “He provided . . . ,” (because) “He answered prayer . . . ,” (because) “He opened up a parking space . . . ” If I followed that same line of reasoning, I couldn’t say that God is good. He didn’t answer my most heartfelt prayers. He didn’t spare my son; and He didn’t save my daughter’s life. I have found that when God’s gifts are not the reason I give Him thanks, I rediscover that God is good.

In affliction, our trust in God is deepened because suffering tests and affirms our faith in His goodness and trustworthiness. In good times, we experience God’s goodness in the good things He gives us. In hard times, we experience His goodness through His tenderness, mercy, and loving compassion manifested to us in the midst of suffering. God is not sometimes merciful and sometimes just; He is eternally and infinitely just and merciful and good in all that He is and does. From that reality spring our hope and comfort in suffering.”

Peggy Reynoso in “Formed Through Suffering” in The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016) 193-194.

God’s generosity is rooted in who He is and not in what He gives us. Sometimes He allows us to endure suffering. In these times we learn about and experience His compassion.

As agents of generosity, we get to minister to those in suffering with the same compassion that God extends to us. When we ourselves go through tough times we get to show others how to hold on to God.

This is the hard side of life that many want to avoid. As Reynoso notes, “suffering is a key element to living life to the full” and because God is with us, hope and comfort spring forth despite difficulty.

To grow in generosity, next time you suffer, attune to how God is deepening your faith and touching you with compassion. This will enable you to give others the generous gift of compassion when they suffer.

Going up to the mountains and reading books like this one helps me get perspective. Perhaps a fresh change of scenery could help you see things anew today. Get outside and see what happens.

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Paula Fuller: What does lack of compassion reveal?

And he said, “The one having shown compassion toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “You go and do likewise.” Luke 10:37

“Jesus was radical in the way He taught about love for one’s neighbor and the implications for those who desire to partake of the eternal life that God promises. The ones in the story [Luke 10:25-37] who appear to be “in” are “out” and the one who is “out” is “in.” The priest and the Levite are insiders—those who are closest to following God’s law and presumably closest to understanding and receiving eternal life. However, they are really “out” because they fail to perceive the significance of expressing their love for God through an act of kindness to a fellow human being. Proper belief was insufficient.

When the priest and Levite saw the wounded man, they crossed to the other side of the road, continuing their busy lives of service for God. They were unaware of how this lack of compassion affected their standing in the eyes of the One they were committed to serve. The Samaritan is the outsider—the one who is furthest away from God and eternal life—but in the eyes of Jesus, he’s “in” because he gets it. The Samaritan has every reason to reject this wounded Israelite whose people have vilified his, yet he demonstrates that his affections and care for another person created in God’s image are appropriately ordered. He cares for the wounded man, seeking His good and invests time, money, and energy. He may even risk his own safety. The picture is extraordinary. It’s a picture of the condition of the heart…

Jesus chose the Good Samaritan as the hero. The one who is unorthodox according to the law is living in a way that captures the essence of what is important to God. Jesus didn’t tell us to be like the priest or the Levite. Jesus declared that it is better to reject religious duty than to neglect a deed of mercy. He pointed to the actions of the Good Samaritan and said, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Note that the words of Jesus charge us to “go and do” not “go and believe.”

Paula Fuller in “Participating in God’s Mission” in The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016) 205-206.

Our lack of compassion reveals the condition of our heart.

This is a powerful reading. Compassion is what the Good Samaritan extended to the hurting person through his actions.

What do your actions reveal about your heart?

I am reflecting on how my actions reflect the condition of my heart as I rest over the weekend in the mountains. Go and do likewise.

And let us be sure that our reflection results in compassionate action.

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Richard Swenson: Overwork and Fatigue

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15

“Medicine has a long, proud history of overwork. Today, however, something is different. To be sure, doctors are putting in long hours—but the difference is, we are not bearing up well under new pressures. The enormous changes in medicine have rocked physicians, and most are trying to regain some semblance of person and professional equilibrium.

On top of all the unprecedented structural changes, the societal reimbursement for being a doctor is lower than in times past, thus not sufficiently blunting the work stress… This professional overwork ethic begins in medical school and intensifies in residency training. Enormous time commitments are simply expected. One week during residency I worked 128 hours—and, quite frankly, besides falling asleep in the middle of my spaghetti, I didn’t think much about it.

But studies reveal such overloaded schedules do indeed cause detrimental changes in medical trainees, replacing the altruistic motivation of patient service with the more primitive motive of shift survival. “For many residents, fatigue cultivates anger, resentment, and bitterness rather than kindness, compassion, or empathy.”

Richard Swenson in The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998) 180.

Do you know your limits?

I am learning mine in my role as CEO of Global Trust Partners. Being stretched is good. It takes us out of our comfort zone. But we must be careful not to overwork as it adversely impacts our generosity.

As Swenson notes with medical blokes, overwork and fatigue can cause our kindness, compassion, and empathy to turn into anger, resentment, and bitterness. I think this pattern could be true for workers in all sectors.

But how can we avoid this dreadful shift from happening in our own lives? I am learning to schedule breaks. This weekend, for example, Jenni and I are headed to the mountains of Colorado for some rest and recreation.

Is it time to schedule a break? Are you feeling overworked or fatigued? Don’t wait for your body to give out or for your kindness, compassion, and empathy to disappear. Your generosity depends on it. Take a break.

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Jonathan Edwards: No Compassion

Therefore, I indeed will deal in wrath. My eye will have no pity nor will I spare; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not listen to them.” Ezekiel 8:18

“Consider this, you that are here present that yet remain in an unregenerate state. That God will execute the fierceness of His anger, implies, that He will inflict wrath without any pity. When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it were, into an infinite gloom; He will have no compassion upon you.

He will not forbear the executions of His wrath, or in the least lighten His hand; there shall be no moderation or mercy, nor will God then at all stay His rough wind; He will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much in any other sense, than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires. Nothing shall be withheld, because it is so hard for you to bear (Ezekiel 8:18).

Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement of obtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God, as to any regard to your welfare. God will have no other use to put you to, but to suffer misery.”

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Application 2.

This famous sermon brings up a great point about the generosity of our God and compassion. It’s only available for a season. There will come a time when compassion will be exchanged for wrath.

What’s the generous response to this profound truth? We get to encourage people to make the most of the day of mercy in which we find ourselves. We must show the pathway to repentance by our humility and good works.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

Let us use this day of mercy to show acts of mercy. Let us use this time of compassion to do works of compassion. Do you know a neighbor who is lost. Love your neighbor today. Don’t wait.

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Blaise Pascal: Benefit

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! Isaiah 30:18

“If the compassion of God is so great that He instructs us to our benefit, even when He hides Himself, what light ought we not to expect from Him when He reveals Himself?”

Blaise Pascal in Pensées (New York: Dutton, 1958) pensée #847.

Our compassionate God instructs us for our benefit, though He does it in a manner that only those who seek Him find Him. Those who wait on Him can expect great light.

What does this have to do with generosity? Our God works to our benefit and reveals what we need when we wait on Him. As conduits of blessing, we can trust Him to provide what we need.

With regard to generosity, sometimes the benefits we receive and share are not material but are precisely what we or others need. To get light is to receive discernment or direction.

May our generosity reflect that of our compassionate God. May it be just what people need and serve as light to them. And let us wait on Him with confident expectation to supply richly.

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Charles Swindoll: Obscurity

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25: 34-36

“As one understanding soul expressed it: “Compassion is not a snob gone slumming. It’s a real trip down inside the broken heart of a friend. It’s feeling the sob of the soul. It’s sitting down and silently weeping with your soul-crushed neighbor.”

Parceling out this kind of compassion will elicit no whistles or loud applause. In fact, the best acts of compassion will never be known to the masses. Nor will fat sums of money be dumped into your lap because you are committed to being helpful. Normally, acts of mercy are done in obscurity with no thought (or receipt) of monetary gain.

Compassion usually calls for a willingness to humbly spend oneself in obscurity on behalf of unknowns. How few there are in our fast-paced, get-rich-quick society who say to such a task, “Here I am, use me.”

Truly compassionate people are often hard to understand. They take risks most people would never take. They give away what most people would cling to. They reach out when most would hold back with folded arms. Their caring brings them up close where they feel the other person’s pain and do whatever is necessary to demonstrate true concern.

If God’s people are to be living examples of one thing, that thing ought to be—it must be—compassion.”

Charles R. Swindoll in Day by Day with Charles Swindoll (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005) week 11, Friday reading. The header photo is the Dixon Chapel at Cherry Hills Community Church, the site of Sophie’s wedding.

It was a beautiful ceremony and celebration yesterday. I am thankful for all who surrounded Sophie and Peter with love and support. Few will receive thanks for all the little things they did, but I am so grateful.

Obscurity. Not the destination most people aspire to visit. Think about it. Obscurity is where God leads us when we aim to live, give, serve, and love like Jesus with compassion.

Showing compassion will lead us to forget about ourselves and to set aside our agenda in order to serve those who are before us in need. In this sense, compassion leads us toward obscurity.

When I ponder the reason for this, I see the brilliance of God’s design for us. Any other path would lead us to pride. This path helps us maintain our perspective and reflect God’s generous love to the world.

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John Ruusbroec: Our Bridegroom Stirs the Merciful to Compassion

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:12-13

“Out of mercifulness comes compassion and a common suffering with all men. For no man can suffer with all men, except he be merciful. This compassion is an inward stirring of the heart with pity for all men’s need, material and spiritual. Compassion makes man to agonize and suffer with Christ in His sufferings, as man observes the cause of His torments, their manner, and His patience: His love, His wounds, His tenderness; His pain, His humiliation, His nobility; the wretchedness, the shame, the contempt, the crown, the nails; His mercifulness, and how He perished and died in meekness. This incomparable and manifold suffering of Christ our Redeemer and our Bridegroom stirs the merciful man to compassion and to pity for Christ. 

Compassion makes man to look upon himself, and to observe his faults and his lack of virtues and of care for God’s honour; his lukewarmness and sloth and the multitude of his faults; how he has wasted time, and how now he lacks virtues and perfection. And this so causes man to have mercy upon himself in a just compassion. The next compassion makes man to see the erring and straying of men, their heedlessness of their God and of their eternal blessedness, their ingratitude for all the good that God has done to them, and all the suffering He has endured on their account. And that they are strangers to virtue, ignorant of it, unskilled in it; apt and servile to all wickedness and unrighteousness; how anxiously they scan the losing and the winning of earthly goods; how heedless and reckless they are of God and everlasting good and their eternal blessedness. And to observe this makes great compassion in a good man for the blessedness of all men. 

A man shall also in pity observe the material necessities of his fellow-Christian, and the manifold sufferings of human nature. When a man observes men’s hunger and thirst, cold, nakedness and sickness, poverty, rejection, the various oppressions of the poor, the sorrow that comes through the loss of kinsmen, of friends, of possessions, of honours, of peace, through the innumerable griefs that come upon human beings: all this moves a good man to compassion, and he suffers with all men. But his greatest suffering is that men are impatient under these afflictions and lose their reward, and often earn damnation. This is the work of compassion and mercifulness. This work of compassion and of love for all men conquers and drives out the third deadly sin, which is hatred and envy. For compassion is a piercing of the heart which love makes common to all men, and there is nothing that can heal it so long as any suffering remains in man: for God alone has pity on it and has complete knowledge of all suffering. And therefore Christ says: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. That shall be when in joy they reap that which now through compassion and sympathy they sow in sorrow.”

John Ruusbroec (1293-1381) in The Spiritual Espousals (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985) 68-69.

What better piece to read on the day I give my daughter to be married to groom than The Spiritual Espousals by John Ruusbroec. In this section entitled “Mercifulness fosters Compassion” he makes many profound points. Three are noteworthy.

Firstly, compassion draws us closer to Christ. We see Him for who He is and what He has done for us. Secondly, this helps us see ourselves rightly and this includes all our faults and frailties. Thirdly, this leads us to attune to the spiritual and physical needs of others. This propels us to a life of generosity.

So, here is my prayer on the wedding day of Sophie Victoria Hoag and Peter Joseph Gomez. May they, with God’s help, clothe themselves with compassion so they see God for who He is, so they see themselves rightly, and so they attune to the needs of others all the days of their lives.

I love you Sophie and Peter. Happy wedding day!

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Oswald Chambers: Never Lonely and Never Lack

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?” John 14:9a

“Once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely and we never lack for understanding or compassion. We can continually pour out our hearts to Him without being perceived as overly emotional or pitiful. The Christian who is truly intimate with Jesus will never draw attention to himself but will only show the evidence of a life where Jesus is completely in control. This is the outcome of allowing Jesus to satisfy every area of life to its depth. The picture resulting from such a life is that of the strong, calm balance that our Lord gives to those who are intimate with Him.”

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest reading entitled “Intimate with Jesus” for 7 January.

It is possible to be with people but to lack intimacy with them. With the festivities surrounding our daughter’s wedding, I am seeing many family members and friends that I love but do not know very deeply because I don’t get the privilege of spending much time with them.

The same is true in our walk with Jesus. We can go to church, read the Bible, and be familiar with who He is, but to be intimate with Jesus, to know Him and be known by Him, calls for great commitment of spending time together. We must say ‘no’ to everything else to say ‘yes’ to Him.

What’s your daily office look like? Some call it a quiet time. Others refer to it as going to their prayer closet, sitting in their Jesus chair, or doing daily devotions. Whatever the label, it’s the place where you go to grow in intimacy with Jesus, to know and be known by Him.

In that relationship we are “never lonely and never lack” because in Christ we have everything we need. From there we can live, give, serve, and love generously as we are content and complete. Want to grow in generosity? Deepen your intimacy with Jesus. You will never be lonely and never lack.

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Richard Foster: Touched

A man with leprosy came and knelt before Him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Matthew 8:2-3

“The one thing we are to do is show compassion. Always! The Gospel writers frequently mention that Jesus was “filled with compassion” for people. In one story a leper came to Jesus, begging to be healed. When Jesus looked at the leper, He was moved with compassion. The Hebrew and Aramaic roots of compassion are inward parts, what the old King James Version used to call bowels of mercy. It comes from the same source as the word womb, and so we could speak of the womblike heart of Jesus, which brought healing mercy to the leper. Now, Jesus could have kept His distance and commanded the man to be well, but instead He touched him. Jesus’ touch of compassion was comparable to our taking hold of a person with AIDS, stopping the bleeding with our bare hands, and putting our own life in jeopardy. This is the compassion of Jesus.”

Richard Foster in Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (New York: HarperCollins, 1992) 208.

It has touched me deeply to see the love that many are showing to Sophie and Peter as they prepare to unite as one in marriage on Monday. It’s great to see them willingly surround this young couple in support.

I am also moved at the way in which our Lord always shows compassion to those who call to Him. He sympathizes with suffering and acts to bring healing. He moves toward, not away from brokenness, and touches it.

God, by your Holy Spirit, help us touch people with compassion. Teach us to rally willingly around them to encourage them and to move toward those who are hurting. In your mercy hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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