Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Compassion. It's What We Do.

Dear Friends,

If one word could sum up our New Prosperity Gospel, it would be the word, “Compassion.” We typically misdefine this word to mean feelings of empathy and sympathy we have toward another’s suffering. But the definition of compassion is: “an awareness of another’s distress along with a desire to alleviate it.” Compassion is not just what we feel for others, it’s what we do for others. Compassion is the manifestation of our love for others. It’s holding the hand of someone in the hospital. It’s feeding the hungry. It’s helping the needy. It’s alleviating suffering. 

As I was preparing this issue of the AMEN Corner on Veterans Day, I found a photograph that shows true Compassion better than anything I could ever say to explain it.

When I worked for the City of Glendale back in the mid-90's, I used to occasionally go out to lunch with a friend of mine, Jim Anthony. We never talked about our faith but, by the words he used and the things he said, it was apparent that he was not a practicing Christian. One day we were walking from City Hall to a restaurant and taking a shortcut through the 7-Eleven parking lot. That’s when we saw the man lying next to the dumpster. An empty bottle was nearby and it was pretty clear he was just drunk and passed out. He was dressed in filthy clothing and there was the overwhelming stench of alcohol and urine. You could see where he had urinated in his clothing as he slept. I carefully stepped around him to avoid getting anything on the bottom of my shoes, but Jim walked over to the guy. 

It can be dangerous to try to wake up sleeping transients. Because of drugs, alcohol or an unbalanced mental state, some of these guys can wake up startled and violent. Police officers stand to one side and tap their nightstick on the sole of the person's shoe to wake them up. So I cringed when I saw Jim bend over the guy, put his hand on a filthy shoulder and start to gently shake him awake saying, "Hey.. are you OK?" Now another piece of information I want to give you about Jim is that he was the Chief of Police for the City of Glendale. 

The guy stirred awake and fell right back to sleep. I said to Jim, "Well he's you want to call for a black and white to pick him up?" He told me he did so I used my City radio to call police dispatch. We’d now been there for a few minutes and I was restless and hungry so I said, "OK.. Lets go." Jim gave me a funny look and told me, "We can't just leave him here like this." I said, "Well he sure isn't going anywhere until the car gets here" Jim was still looking at me as if he couldn't believe my insensitivity and said, "But what if he gets sick and aspirates his vomit or has a heart attack?" So we waited, talked and waited some more. 

We were dressed in suits and standing in the direct sun on a very hot summer day. But Jim was careful to stand so that the man’s face was in his shadow and shielded from the hot sun. At first I thought that Jim was just doing this because of some liability reason or out of a professional responsibility. But as I saw him periodically reach down and brush away the flies which were gathering around open sores on this man's face, I realized I wasn’t simply watching my friend the cop do his job. I was seeing a man of compassion caring for another and doing what he could to alleviate suffering. My non-Christian friend was showing me what true Christian compassion looks like.

In the Gospels, the word “compassion” is often used in conjunction with the ministry of Jesus. We read that He was moved with compassion for the sick person and healed them. He had compassion for the hungry and fed them..for the blind and touched them..for the lost and prayed for them. He had compassion for the sinners and forgave them. Jesus never walked by, shaking his head, saying, “Poor fellow, I sure do feel bad for him.” Whenever Jesus was moved to compassion, He immediately relieved their suffering – He met their need...

The soldier in the photo and my friend Jim show us what Christ-like compassion looks like. 1 Peter 3:8 tells us to “have compassion for one another.” Help others. Touch their lives with your love. Give generously and meet their needs. Remember that our treasures are stored up in heaven when we give to others. That’s the New Prosperity Gospel.  Amen?

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