Augustine of Hippo: Compassionate is a Verb

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Augustine of Hippo: Compassionate is a Verb

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither–whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:3

“The souls that thirst after Thee, and that appear before Thee, Thou waterest by a sweet spring, that the earth may bring forth her fruit, and Thou, Lord God, so commanding, our soul may bud forth works of mercy according to their kind, loving our neighbor in the relief of his bodily necessities, having seed in itself according to its likeness, when from feeling of our infirmity, we compassionate so as to relieve the needy; helping them, as we would be helped; if we were in like need; not only in things easy, as in herb yielding seed, but also in the protection of our assistance, with our best strength, like the tree yielding fruit: that is, well-doing in rescuing him that suffers wrong, from the hand of the powerful, and giving him the shelter of protection, by the mighty strength of just judgment.”

Augustine of Hippo in The Confessions of St. Augustine, 8.17.

Yesterday I failed to mention that Linda Maris is collaborating with Jenni and me on the 30 day devotional, Flourish, which will be produced by NCF Wisconsin. The book is slated to release in June 2020. Again, I exploring compassion with an eye for texts that reflect flourishing.

Compassionate is a verb. “We compassionate so as to relieve the needy…”

Ed Spencer, a Daily Meditations reader, added this comment yesterday. He said rightly, “Sympathy is to feel; empathy is to attach personal meaning to the feeling; compassion is to become engaged personally in doing something with the feeling.”

What if we revived the idea that compassionate is a verb? What if each of us became engaged personally in doing something for the needy?

Notice, like David the psalmist, Augustine likens the giving of our “best strength” to showing compassion as a tree yielding fruit. It’s what Jesus re-made us to do.

Father, show us what it means to compassionate our neighbor. Jesus, give us eyes to see the needy. Holy Spirit, empower us to serve them.

Speaking of service, the CEO retreat in Goa is going great. I am one of four facilitators for the group of young CEO’s of ministries in India. Also, enjoy the new header photo too, a shot of the Arabian Sea from Goa, on the west coast of India. I shot it between sessions yesterday.

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John Chrysostom: Chief Work

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” John 6:29

“You shall find many which have not the true faith, and be not of the flock of Christ, and yet (as it appeareth) they flourish in good works of mercy. You shall find them full of pity, compassion, and given to justice; and yet for all that they have no fruit of their works, because the chief work lacketh.

For when the Jews asked of Christ what they should do to work good works, he answered: “This is the work of God, to believe in Him Whom He sent.” So that He called faith the work of God. And as soon as a man hath faith, anon he shall flourish in good works; for faith of itself is full of good works and nothing is good without faith.”

John Chrysostom as cited by Thomas Cranmer in “An Homily or Sermon of Good Works Annexed Unto Faith” (Cambridge: University Press, 1846) 143.

As I continue to explore compassion in relationship to generosity in 2020, I realize that ultimately it flows out of a chief work, that is, faith in Christ. So people can show compassion and do good works, but they will only flourish in them if they have faith.

My wife, Jenni, and I have started working on a 30-day devotional entitled, Flourish. I say this because if you notice the theme of ‘compassion’ intersecting with what it means to ‘flourish’ in my posts it’s because I am exploring those ideas together.

Let this be the lesson for today. If we want to grow in compassion or flourish in any wide array of good works, let us nurture our faith in Jesus Christ (or encourage people to embrace such faith), for out of that spring will flow an abundance of good works.

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J. H. Gurney: Make the Sick and Suffering Your Friends

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9

“So far our Lord’s meaning is quite plain; and truly it seemeth strange, in a world where men value friends of a certain kind at so high a rate, that to bind the needy to us by the tie of gratitude is a service so much neglected. Truly, when we want so many blessings, and God has made such large promises to the bountiful, the man acts an unwise part for his own good in both worlds, who does not greatly value the prayers of his humbler, weaker brethren. O bear this in mind, and make your charities, if you can, more personal and special than is the fashion in these modern days. Let your gifts, some of them, at least, be not only a tax paid somewhere, because men must not live in a Christian state without acknowledgment of their dependence upon God, but an offering, for Christ’s sake, to some selected brother. I see not how you can make the sick and suffering your friends on other terms; and be assured they are friends worth having; for God, who seeth their need, and hath compassion on their sorrows, and heareth all their cries, may send us showers of blessings in answer to their prayers.”

J. H. Gurney in “The Mammon of Unrighteousness: It’s Slaves and Masters” in Christian Almsdeeds and Faithful Stewardship (London: Rivingtons, 1862) 44.

Read the last part again.

“I see not how you can make the sick and suffering your friends on other terms; and be assured they are friends worth having; for God, who seeth their need, and hath compassion on their sorrows, and heareth all their cries, may send us showers of blessings in answer to their prayers.”

This inspires me as I minister in India this week (pain-free today thank God, and almost assuredly thanks to the prayers of many). I have seen sick and suffering people all over. They line the streets. The challenges of this context are so great it would be easy for God’s servants to be overwhelmed and give up.

Serving God’s servants in Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru, and now Goa, has been more than giving trainings and talks. I’ve been making friends who are suffering. They say the assistance is an answer to their prayers, which may explain why I feel so blessed in the process.

Do you know anyone who is sick or suffering? Don’t give them a handout. Think what giving a hand-up might look like in the name of Jesus. Do this not from the angle of making a friend. The heavenly blessing that returns to you just might surprise you.

That’s my hope and prayer for each of us as we explore compassion linked to generosity together.

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Teresa of Ávila: Compassionate Her

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things. Mark 6:34

“When I see people very anxious to know what sort of prayer they practice, covering their faces and afraid to move or think lest they should lose any slight tenderness and devotion they feel, I know how little they understand how to attain union with God since they think it consists in such things as these. No, sisters, no; our Lord expects works from us. If you see a sick sister whom you can relieve, never fear losing your devotion; compassionate her; if she is in pain, feel for it as if it were your own and, when there is need, fast so that she may eat, , not so much for her sake as because you know your Lord asks it of you. This is the true union of our will with the will of God. If some one else is well spoken of, be more pleased than if it were yourself; this is easy enough, for if you were really humble it would vex you to be praised. It is a great good to rejoice at your sister’s virtues being known and to feel as sorry for the fault you see in her as if it were yours, hiding it from the sight of others. ”

Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) in Interior Castle 3.11 (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 83.

In reading Interior Castle in 2015, this expression, “compassionate her,” struck me so I posted part of this quote. Today’s post is a longer excerpt which adds depth to it.

I had not thought about it for years until last night. I got to my hotel room in Bengaluru after 1:00am and took a hot shower, trying to relieve pain I was experiencing in my low back and hip.

I was also thinking about the word “compassion.” That’s when I thought of this expression from Teresa, “compassionate her.” So I located the quote and found these words follow that expression.

“If she is in pain, feel for it as if it were your own.” So again I gave thanks for the pain I am currently experiencing in my back and hip. Seriously, the pain has helped me minister more effectively in India.

Then I read Mark’s Gospel and was reminded that Jesus felt their pain and responded with teaching. With a week of teaching to go on this trip, it inspires me to “compassionate” each person I meet, to listen, to feel their deep pain, and to teach them with love.

Join me. Compassionate those around you. Feel their deep pain. Only after doing that will you know what they need. Then (and only then) teach them! Show them graciously, how to find healing and hope in God.

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A. W. Tozer: No One Need Be Poor

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

“There is nothing good, nothing holy, nothing beautiful, nothing joyous which He is not to His servants. No one need be poor, because, if he chooses, he can have Jesus for his own property and possession. No one need be downcast, for Jesus is the joy of heaven, and it is His joy to enter into sorrowful hearts. We can exaggerate about many things; but we can never exaggerate our obligation to Jesus, or the compassionate abundance of the love of Jesus to us. All our lives long we might talk of Jesus, and yet we should never come to an end of the sweet things that might be said of Him. Eternity will not be long enough to learn all He is, or to praise Him for all He has done, but then, that matters not; for we shall be always with Him, and we desire nothing more.”

A. W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God (Gutenburg eBook, 2008) 41.

It can be overwhelming to see the pervasive poverty in places like India. For that reason I decided to focus on the “compassionate abundance” of Jesus as Tozer describes it. This helps me get perspective in the solitude of my hotel room.

“No one need be poor.” The greatest gift for humankind is free for all. It’s Jesus. But do I live in such a way that others see this? My prayer is that my ministry here and the service of everyone reading this today, points people to Jesus.

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Charles Haddon Spurgeon: Confidently Trust

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, He rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. Mark 9:19-27

“A certain man had a demoniac son, who was afflicted with a dumb spirit. The father, having seen the futility of the endeavours of the disciples to heal his child, had little or no faith in Christ, and therefore, when he was bidden to bring his son to him, he said to Jesus, “If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.”

Now there was an “if” in the question, but the poor trembling father had put the “if” in the wrong place: Jesus Christ, therefore, without commanding him to retract the “if,” kindly puts it in its legitimate position. “Nay, verily,” he seemed to say, “there should be no ‘if’ about my power, nor concerning my willingness, the ‘if’ lies somewhere else.” “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” The man’s trust was strengthened, he offered a humble prayer for an increase of faith, and instantly Jesus spoke the word, and the devil was cast out, with an injunction never to return.

There is a lesson here which we need to learn. We, like this man, often see that there is an “if” somewhere, but we are perpetually blundering by putting it in the wrong place. “If” Jesus can help me—“if” he can give me grace to overcome temptation—“if” he can give me pardon—“if” he can make me successful? Nay, “if” you can believe, he both can and will. You have misplaced your “if.”

If you can confidently trust, even as all things are possible to Christ, so shall all things be possible to you. Faith standeth in God’s power, and is robed in God’s majesty; it weareth the royal apparel, and rideth on the King’s horse, for it is the grace which the King delighteth to honour. Girding itself with the glorious might of the all-working Spirit, it becomes, in the omnipotence of God, mighty to do, to dare, and to suffer. All things, without limit, are possible to him that believeth. My soul, canst thou believe thy Lord tonight?”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon in Morning and Evening Daily Readings (Grand Rapids: CCEL) Evening Reading for 23 September.

In moments of hopelessness when we have little faith, our generous and compassionate God does not kick us for perpetually blundering but answers our humble cries for help. That’s generosity! He gives us exactly what we need and don’t deserve!

The trip to India (picture above) is going well. So far, by God’s grace, I trained 30 influential ministry heads on The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance, and then I shot 16 videos for a “Biblical Understanding of Management” course for CIM along with many visits.

In meetings I am hearing “if” a lot. Many lack hope. That’s where encouragement to “confidently trust” makes all the difference. If you struggle or know someone stuck in an “if” moment, remember this or remind them that Jesus can help just like He aided this desperate father.

He does His best work in our darkest moments. Let us, like Him be generous and compassionate and do our best work by moving toward struggling and discouraged people. We can make a generous difference, not if but when we act on the belief that all things are possible with God!

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Severe Rebuke

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

“Reproof is unavoidable. God’s Word demands it when a brother falls into open sin. The practice of discipline in the congregation begins in the smallest circles. Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the word of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship, when we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and succoring. Then it is not we who are judg­ing; God alone judges, and God’s judgment is helpful and healing. Ultimately, we have no charge but to serve our brother, never to set ourselves above him, and we serve him even when we must speak the judging and dividing Word of God to him, even when, in obedience to God, we must break off fellowship with him. We must know that it is not our human love which makes us loyal to the other per­son, but God’s love which breaks its way through to him only through judgment. Just because God’s Word judges, it serves the person.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (New York: Harper One, 1954) 107.

Some of you may be thinking that this compassion journey is messy and too hard. That may be true. But sit in the reality of this idea for a minute. “Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.”

The Apostle Paul taught us that Scripture is good for corrective purposes so that we fulfill our calling which is to be thoroughly equipped for every good work. That’s generosity. Though we live in a world that disdains confrontation, rebuke is a good thing as it puts us back on track.

Ministry in India is going well. Today, at one point I thought the teaching might sound like rebuke so I prayed for God to fill me with love. Then I read some Scriptures. The Spirit moved, like a revival broke out. Rebuke, though hard, can be generous and compassionate service.

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Henri Nouwen: Compassionate Authority

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Mark 1:22

“We usually think of people with great authority as higher up, far away, hard to reach. But spiritual authority comes from compassion and emerges from deep inner solidarity with those who are “subject” to authority. The one who is fully like us, who deeply understands our joys and pains or hopes and desires, and who is willing and able to walk with us, that is the one to whom we gladly give authority and whose “subjects” we are willing to be. 

It is compassionate authority that empowers, encourages, calls forth hidden gifts, and enables great things to happen. True spiritual authority is located in the point of an upside-down triangle, supporting and holding into the light everyone they offer their leadership to.”

Henry Nouwen in Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (New York: Harper Collins, 1997) reading for 12 April.

I have arrived safely in India. I will speak in multiple venues in four cities offering a biblical perspective on governance, management, and fundraising. My aim is to empower national workers to build trust and grow local giving. 

And Nouwen has taught me that the most generous thing I can do is not teach from a position of authority above them, but to ask questions and seek to understand their challenges so that my training comes from a place of “compassionate authority.” 

I am convinced that this is what set Jesus part from other teachers.

What about you? In what settings has God positioned you for generous service? Picture that place in your mind. Now ask the Holy Spirit to help you move to a place of “deep inner solidarity” with those you serve, to grasp their joys, pains, hopes, and desires.

Maybe this is why I am having back pain, to attune to the pain of others.

At GTP we have built a “with you” culture. Read about it on our website. Many of the memorable Scripture texts contain these words. I am praying that just like Christ is “God with us” that people in India will feel my “with you” posture.

Make it so Lord Jesus. 

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C.S. Lewis: Grief and Fear

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:6-7

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me.”

C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed (London: Faber & Faber, 1964) 1. This book contains the reflections of C.S. Lewis after the loss of his wife.

Lewis opens the book by commenting that grief feels like fear. The pain appears to paralyze the suffering person. It hinders his or her ability to comprehend reality, and they don’t want to be alone.

As I think about ‘compassion’ in 2020, I feel that God is leading me to identify with the feelings and situation of those who suffer, so that my generosity can meet and minister to them.

Often you and I might think we know what a hurting person needs but without compassion and tenderness, our efforts may miss or, God forbid, make a bigger mess of their situation.

I arrive in India last today. God is nudging me that I need to listen and do activities to connect with the hearts of people as individuals and groups before offering any advice or instruction. God help me.

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Thomas Merton: Alleviate Suffering

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:14

“Physical evil is only to be regarded as a real evil insofar as it tends to foment sin in our souls. That is why a Christian must seek in every way possible to relieve the sufferings of others, and even take certain necessary steps to alleviate some sufferings of his own: because they are occasions of sin. It is true that we can also have compassion for others merely because suffering is an evil in its own right. This compassion is also good. But it does not really become charity unless it sees Christ in the one suffering and has mercy on him with the mercy of Christ.

Jesus had pity on the multitudes not only because they were sheep without a shepherd, but also simply because they had no bread. Yet, He did not feed them with miraculous loaves and fishes without thought for their place in His Father’s Kingdom. Bodily works of mercy look beyond the flesh and into the spirit, and when they are integrally Christian they not only alleviate suffering but they bring grace: that is, they strike at sin.”

Thomas Merton in No Man is An Island (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1983) 85.

The brokenness in our our world tends to foster sin and further suffering. To add compassion to our generosity is to bring grace where sin abounds.

This may sound like a heavy idea to start the year, so let’s keep it simple. Christ aimed to alleviate suffering and we get to follow His example.

When we do, we strike a sin and declare victory for the Kingdom of God. Sadly, some places have more suffering than others,. We must go to them.

Today I am flying to India via Washington D.C. and Frankfurt, Germany. I don’t actually arrive until late tomorrow. Why go there?

There is brokenness in ministries that lack governance and accountability structures. I am doing replicable seminars to bring wholeness.

It’s a long trip and I myself am suffering from back pain. But just like God miraculous supplied what Jesus needed, I am confident He will carry me.

What suffering do you see that generous service could help alleviate? Ask God to help you add compassion to your generosity.

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