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Compassion at a Distance?




One of the observations I’ve made after twenty-three years of ministry is that we Christians are a compassionate people. Or at least we know that we’re supposed to be. We know that as we have done to the least of Christ’s sisters and brothers, we’ve done it to Him. And if the Holy Spirit has had His way with us at all, then “the love of Christ compels us.” The problem is that too often, we are compelled to help the grieving, the sick, the lonely, and the poor… at a distance. To be sure, that’s better than nothing. But in the process, we rob those in need of the very human touch that will heal in ways that even our most sacrificial donations are incapable of. And we rob ourselves of Christian growth that will transform us in ways that no sermon or bible study ever can.

Its much easier (even in a bad economy) to throw some bucks into the mission fund than to actually go on the trip and help clean up the muck in the aftermath of a flood. And for those who actually go on the mission trip, its easier to shovel muck and pick up debris than it is to sit in a shelter and listen to the stories of people who have suddenly found themselves homeless. Its easier to give money to the downtown mission than it is to go there and serve a meal. And for those who volunteer to go, its easier to stay in the kitchen, or ladle soup into a bowl on a serving line, than it is to sit down at the table and engage in conversation with a man who needs a shower, and who lives his life on the streets.

I’ve heard otherwise stalwart believers say that they just can’t go to a hospital or a nursing facility or a funeral home. Its too difficult, they contend. Nonsense. The truth is that its just uncomfortable. Its just easier to send a card than to walk into a room where disease or loneliness or Alzheimer’s or grief seem to be winning the day. We fear that we won’t know what to do or say. We fear that we’ll say or do the wrong thing. We fear tears and despair and raw emotion and awkward silence.

And such fear keeps us from engaging the very people that need our presence and Jesus‘ hope the most. Perfect love casts out fear, the bible says. And Jesus gave his apostles authority – to preach and teach and heal and cast out demons and even (dare I say it?) to raise the dead. In the face of so much pain, its time we church folks set our fears aside and claimed that authority. Its time we pastors taught our people how to use that authority to take back enemy-occupied territory and people for the kingdom of God. Some may call that triumphalism. I call it following the example of our Lord.

A cross-centered faith speaks to the pain of a world in need. A resurrection-centered faith offers the kind of sure and certain hope that seems to be in such short supply these days. But both need to be embodied by ordinary believers, in everyday circumstances. According to the Scripture that we regard so highly, each one of us is a minister. Every occasion is an opportunity…

And the love of Christ compels us.


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