The Boeing 737 made a perfect touchdown on the seven-thousand-foot runway at the Oakland, California, International Airport, completing its one-hour-thirty-minute flight from San Diego. Once the aircraft arrived at its assigned terminal, its passengers, including nineteen weary but satisfied adults and teens, disembarked and made their way through the airport to collect their bags.
After a short wait in the baggage claim area, the giant chrome baggage carousel came to life, and one by one, individual pieces of luggage begin to spew from the baggage chute onto the now slowly turning carousel. The exhausted team joined other anxious travelers as they bunched up near the big machine, pulling their bags off the carousel.
After all the bags had been retrieved, the group made their way to the parking garage. There they were greeted by several volunteers that had arrived from their church to pick them up for the final forty-mile drive North towards home.
I was out shopping when my son called to let me know that they had landed safety and were on the road from the airport to our church parking lot. I arrived at our church after an uneventful fifteen-minute drive from our home.
As I pulled in, I spotted my son standing near his grey suitcase, tanned, wearing a handsome wool poncho that he must have purchased while in Mexico. On top of his head was his ever-present sombrero, now marked with an additional stripe of paint on the brim, making it four colorful stripes on the hat. Each paint stripe signified yet another successful mission to Mexico, where this amazing team spent the past five days showing the love of Jesus in a tangible way, by building a deserving family a modest home.
The family that would occupy the new home would move from a leaking shack assembled from cardboard, old tarps, and scraps of wood, to a much-improved shelter. Family members had reported that during the seasonal rain storms, their old “home” rained inside as much as it did outside. There were as many as five family members that slept in a single eight foot by ten-foot room.
Their new home, built by our church team, would probably not be considered much more than a high-end shed in our country, but it had electricity, a real roof, a slab floor, windows, it was even furnished with curtains, beds with mattresses, complete with sheets and blankets, and even dishes on their new kitchen table. The family would stay dry during the rainy season, and this house boasted several rooms, enough to provide for much improved sleeping arrangements.
During our drive home, my son and I were reflecting on his experiences while he was in Mexico. One of the first observations he shared, was that despite the desperately poor conditions, many people loved the Lord and felt comfortable expressing their faith causally in everyday conversation. In general, he described the atmosphere as that of a culture of respect for Christ and God in general. People who spoke about Christ did so with no inhibition on this topic.
He found this to be in remarkable contrast to the United States, a country that boasts so often about freedom of expression and freedom of religion. A country that once securely aligned its foundation and cultural identity with God and the Scriptures. And yet today, it seems that the typical Christ follower can almost expect to be shunned and shutdown in the social media and academic settings, places where one would expect a free exchange of views.
As we conversed, we concluded that it was almost as though the great blessings, wealth, and protection that God has provided our country has allowed its people to forget our roots and the Author of our blessings. In many ways, we’ve become an ungrateful nation. We seemed to have forgotten that we too were once a nation on edge, struggling to survive. Somewhere along the way we seemed to have lost our gratefulness, forgotten God, and replaced our faith with trust in ourselves.
Job expressed himself on the topic of forgetting God:
“Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web.” (Job 8:13–14, NIV)
To lose touch with our God is to lose hope, it’s the precursor to losing our love and compassion for others, it prevents us from standing up for God’s best in our lives while engaging in our counterculture world. In the process we run the risk of replacing the love of Christ with the easy to reach traits of cynicism, disengagement, and anger, all directed towards those around us that we encounter daily, often the very people that need to hear the hopeful message of the Gospel. Much like Job’s spiderweb, it’s often hard to see until we too become trapped and tangled in its many strands.
We should be encouraged though, because God has given us the Scriptures in which to offer us insights as to how Jesus responded to the world at large in his day. While our technology has changed since his days of His ministry on Earth, the fundamental human being and the challenges we face have remained remarkably similar.
There are at least three things we can do right now to help remind us of God’s blessings and to preserve within us a heart of genuine gratefulness:
- We should strive to live our lives with daily compassion towards others.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, NIV)
In this passage, Matthew recounted his observations of Jesus as he was traveling from town to town, sharing the Gospel of salvation and healing many from physical and emotional illnesses. Matthew could not help but notice the deep compassion that Jesus had for others.
Sometimes we go through our day and fail to “see” the hurt around us. Jesus was active in his compassion towards others, it was built into who he was and is today. We ought to model that type of compassion in our lives as he did.
Take a moment when you spot a family member, a friend, co-worker, etc. that seems like they need a listening ear, and be a compassionate listener. Often, we are powerless to solve their actual problem or take away their pain, but just as often, they can be encouraged by our presence as we offer ourselves up to listen. In doing so, we help move them from being a helpless harassed victim to being strengthened and encouraged to carry on through their current situation. In time, our efforts at listening may allow us to share with them how they might have lasting encouragement through a relationship with Christ.
- Love the unlovable
“ ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.’” (Luke 6:32–33, NIV)
I once had a pastor who always seemed to love the unlovable. Once during a potluck at our church, I saw him with a plate of food looking for a table to sit at. Any table would have loved to have him join them; but he chose the table occupied by several people that were kind of “special,” as our society would politely call them.
They lacked social graces, and probably didn’t score too many points in the personal hygiene department either. Essentially, they were outcasts, even within Christian circles. Nonetheless, that’s who our pastor had dinner with that night. He loved on them like any other person in our church family. He made those folks feel like they were the center of his world.
The world is full of those that aren’t the most lovable. Jesus made a good point that if our motive to love others is predicated on the return of such love, then our hearts have missed the entire point of what real love is.
Thankfully He loved me first, when I was a lost outcast, without any expectation that I would return His love. I’m so grateful for His unconditional love.
- Be generous with our mercy
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36, NIV)
Mercy is the idea of being generous, forgiving of others, and having compassion, reaching out and identifying with a person at an emotional level. It also captures the idea of providing help and encouragement, particularly where others fail to do so.
When we extend our mercy to another, our actions often permit a person to have a fresh start. Our actions can often release them from some personal indebtedness that might have arisen from some past offense. To be free of such a debt is a gift by itself.
Mercy is one of God’s most fundamental qualities. Without which, none of us would ever be able to engage with God in a personal relationship.
Interestingly, when we see the quote from Jesus on the topic of mercy, he describes what our state should be, even before he speaks of what we should specifically be doing to show mercy towards others. We need to live out our lives with this mindset of mercy. Mercy is not something that can be made a duty, it must come from our hearts.
Ultimately, to guard our hearts and to keep us from adopting the easy negative virtues that are so common today, we must actively engage Jesus everyday through the scriptures, prayer, song, and in the way, we live out our lives each day. If we can connect our hearts of compassion and mercy to our actions, our hearts will be guarded because of the transformative power made available to us through our living relationship with Christ.