BELIEVE: week eight: Compassion

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4

Freddy was a classmate of mine in junior high school. He had a condition referred to (at the time) as “water on the brain.” The excess fluid around his skull created an oversized and awkward head for Freddy. Junior high school is an awful place to be different. Immature people create the worst possible names for our apparent weaknesses. Freddy was called Watermelon Head.

One day between classes in a hallway filled with people, a group of boys started picking on Freddy. They called him names and shoved him around. This was the same year I became a Christian. Something was stirring in me, something that was not there before—or perhaps I should say someone.

I felt compelled to go and stand between Freddy and the bullies. But in the end, I did nothing. Forty years later I still think about this incident. As a new, immature Christian, I failed Freddy, and he took the abuse with no advocate. I am so sorry, Freddy. With God’s forgiveness granted, I wake up each day praying for the courage to “defend,” to “uphold the cause,” and “rescue” the Freddys God puts in my life.

“I believe God calls all Christians to show compassion to people in need.”

[Excerpt from Believe: 31-Day Devotional by Randy & Rozanne Frazee, pgs. 19-20.]

Christmas: the true meaning...

Today's thought:

Matthew 9:12-13, "On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Christmas is a special time of year—the lights, the presents, the food, the music—but somehow we have made Christmas about the celebration and have forgotten why we celebrate. Do you know the meaning of Christmas? If you can read the following story and know how it is the Christmas story then you understand.

In the mid 1800's, waves of foreigners introduced diseases that ravished the native peoples of Hawaii. Among the cruelest of these diseases was leprosy, now known as Hansen's disease, for which there was no known cure. As the severe deformities associated with leprosy spread, so did fear. It was decided that those afflicted should be forcibly outcast onto a remote peninsula on the small island of Molokai. This peninsula is exposed and battered by the Pacific ocean on three sides and cut off from the rest of the island by one of the world's tallest and sheerest ocean cliffs.

The souls outcast here became prisoners in their own land, harshly kicked from boats, washing onto shore without adequate supplies, infrastructure, medicine or tools. Families on surrounding islands powerless to help, mourned the cruel fate of their loved ones. Thus, the leper colony named Kalaupapa was formed.

On January 3rd of 1840 a boy was born, one of eight children, named Joseph de Vuester, in Belgium. His father, a farmer, sent him away to college to become an industrial businessman. Instead, while there, he met a group of missionary priests and decided to become a priest himself, taking on the name Father Damien.

Father Damien had a brother, who also entered the priesthood, named Auguste. Auguste was planning a missions trip to Hawaii. At the last minute Auguste got sick and died but before he died he asked his brother to go in his stead. Damien, who was praying about becoming a missionary, readily agreed, and he went to be a missionary to Hawaii. After several years on the island the Bishop asked for volunteers to go to the lepers of Molokai. Damien volunteered and took a boat to Kalaupapa.

When he arrived he was appalled at the sight that greeted him. The place was filled with people who could only be described as, "the walking dead." They were disfigured, had open seaping soars, lived in horrific conditions, with diseases of all kinds running rampant and a prevailing hopelessness. Damien went to the Church to conduct services and this is how that event is described:

"The building was full and it was boiling hot. Damien was confronted with all the physical unpleasantness of leprosy. There were too many people with supporating sores, so that there was a stench of rotting flesh. Moreover, one of the symptoms of leprosy is that the sufferer salivates excessively. The people were constantly coughing, clearing their throats and spiting on the ground. Damien had to turn away in order not to be sick. He went to the open window but the building was surrounded by ill people who had not been able to get into the Church." [Eynikel, Hilde: Molokai. The Story of Father Damien. (Trans.) Lesley Gilbert. Lond]

But it was when Damien went to what they called, "the dying shed," that Damien's life changed forever. When he opened the door on the floor lay a young man, a boy, with a swollen face lying twitching on a dirty sheet. Maggots crawled in his open soars. Though the Bishop had strickly forbid Damien before he left not to touch any person with his bare skin he knelt down with the young man, took off his glove and gently caressed a part of his uninfected skin. He told the dying boy of the glories of heaven and the love of God. Then the boy died in Damien's arms.

In that moment Damien decided to devote his life to the lepers of that colony. For over fifteen years he served them. He improved their way of life, dug their graves, got them water, helped build them huts, ministered the grace of God to them, was father to some 100 orphaned children. One day as he was preparing a bath he spilled scalding hot water on his foot. He saw the skin blister but felt no pain and then he knew. He too was now one of them and was going to suffer and die with leprosy. He began his next sermon with these words, "We lepors..." He gave his life for those people and died as one of them.

This is the Christmas story. Do you see it? If you see it then let the truth wash over you and hear the Angel say to you, "I bring you good news that will cause great joy..." (Luke 2:10).

Prayer: Father, the long awaited One has come and we rejoice in His arrival. He came to comfort, heal and save. We celebrate Him and the grace He brings to us, that He left the glories of heaven to call us sinners into His healing love. He is "good news of great joy!" Praise You for Your great gift. In Jesus name, amen.

[Adapted from: The Christmas Experience - Part 4: Experience God's Joy. Listen to the full message here:]

Compassion comes from a heart that belongs to God...

Today's thought:

Matthew 1:18-19: "This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly."

Here's Joseph's dilemma: he comes from a culture of arranged marriages. When the parents negotiated the marriage it was a contract between families that was binding and not easily dissolved. To be engaged was a kind of marriage that required a certificate of divorce.

Joseph was engaged to Mary. One day Joseph's fiancé, Mary, comes to him. I'm not sure how that conversation went. How does she explain what has happened to her—the angel, the prophesy, the baby? No matter how she explained it the fact of the story is hard to sugar coat. She's pregnant and Joseph's not the father. How do you break that news? Maybe by rhyming? "Roses are red, violets are blue. I'm pregnant and the father's not you." Maybe she said, "Joseph, make a face as if the Holy Spirit overshadowed me while I slept and when I woke up I was pregnant. Good. Now get used to it." Or maybe she sent him a fruit basket. Who can be mad if they're eating chocolate covered strawberries?

However it happened it put Joseph in a dilemma. Because of God's law, to which Joseph was faithful, he could not marry her. It would have made him an adulterer. So, he saw only two options. Option one, the option that was obviously best for Joseph's reputation, demanded that Joseph give Mary a public certificate of divorce. But by saving his own reputation Mary would be destroyed. To divorce her publicly would be to subject her to public ridicule. Her future marriage prospects would be gone. She would probably be ostracized by her parents and be alone trying to raise this child on her own. That wasn't the worst though. The worst was that the law punished adultery by stoning, by death. A public divorce for Mary could very well be a death sentence.

When you look at how people respond when they are cheated on you get one constant theme. Their first and strongest desire is to 'out' the cheater. They rent billboards and put the cheaters face and info on them for all to see. They make posts on Facebook with all their evidence. The first thing they want is others to know. In this way we can uncover a deeper truth about Joseph. Joseph's heart belonged to God. I know this because Joseph did not do what many people in the world would do. Our fleshly first reaction would be revenge, to show the other as a cheater to the world. But Joseph doesn't do that.

Instead he chooses option two. That is to divorce Mary quietly. Instead of revenge Joseph shows compassion. He didn't get that compassion from the law. Laws don't have compassion. He could have only been able to give that response if his heart belonged to God.

A heart that belongs to God finds compassion when revenge is easiest. The New Testament is full of this idea that when our heart belongs to God then we deal with those who hurt us, betray us, persecute us, are our enemies with love instead of hate, with compassion instead of revenge, with blessing instead of curses.

The reality is that loving others has much to do with loving God and loving God is best shown when we show compassion to those who hurt us. Someone once said, "We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive."

Showing compassion to Mary shows Joseph's heart belongs to God. When our hearts belong to God others will know by the compassion we show.

Prayer: Father we thank you for the incredible compassion You have shown us through Jesus Christ. We seek to be people of compassion like Joseph. Help increase our faith so we may be people whose hearts belong to You. In Jesus name, amen.

[Adapted from The Christmas Experience: Part Two: Experience God's Peace. Listen to the full message here:]