Compassion for the Harassed and Helpless

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” – Matthew 9:35-36

Jesus lived under the greatest empire the world had yet seen, and in a deeply religious Jewish culture developed over centuries.  The people had powerful leaders, both political and religious.  Why then were the people seemingly without a shepherd to lead them?

The Roman Empire touted widespread peace and prosperity due to the Caesars and their government.  But the people still had many unsolved problems and no hope.  “Throughout all the cities and villages” were diseased, afflicted and helpless people, and Jesus could help them all in ways the Romans could not or would not.

The Jewish Pharisees, jealous of Jesus’ ability to solve problems they could not, claimed “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”  They rightly described His power as supernatural, but they called it evil.  Even as He was performing life-saving miracles, they could not tolerate Him as a rival, and so rejected the people’s only hope.

So, the people remained “harassed and helpless,” not knowing who to trust.

Is your culture also faithless?  Your workplace?  Your community or household?  Jesus encouraged His disciples to see rampant lack of faith as an opportunity to show the crowds the compassion of Jesus: “Then He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” – Matthew 9:37-38

Today, pray for workers to bring in the harvest.  Also, know that God might make you and I those workers.  As in Jesus’ day, it is up to individual disciples to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom – through compassionate action and often in spite of what those in charge of other kingdoms might prefer.  Harassed and helpless sheep can be frustrated and difficult, but only humble disciples know the problems on the streets of their cities and villages best.

Pray for the compassion of our Great Shepherd who can work miracles. Is there a need He can meet through you today?

Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

[This Rewind Wednesday was originally posted in April 2022]

Cats are Not the Only Things I’m Allergic To

Although highly allergic to cats, I love the two we have, but sometimes wonder if it’s worth the trouble.  This past Saturday night, one of the cats, named Misty, was up crying much of the night, waking us up regularly.  Eventually, I realized she must have been upset about her litter.  The store was out of the “usual,” so I tried to get away with a replacement, even though I know how finicky cats are.  Sure enough, once I changed it to what I had left of the usual stuff (kept in reserve in case of finicky cat trouble), she stopped complaining.

Why am I telling you this?  Because what happened next reminded me that God is concerned about even the most minor details of our lives, and about every living creature He has made.  Sunday morning my reading schedule began with Psalm 8, which includes this:

You have given [man] dominion over the works of your hands;
            you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
            and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
            whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”- Psalm 8:6-8

Misty, an indoor cat who may feel like she’s trapped in the ark.

Under the mandate given in Genesis, mankind is supposed to take care of whatever God has given us – the earth and everything in it.  My study Bible helpfully noted that this includes pets, which reminded me of Misty’s crying!  I thought maybe our cats were worth the trouble after all, but God wasn’t finished making the point.

Also on my reading schedule was Genesis 7, which includes: “And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.” – Genesis 7:24

During the flood, Noah and his family were flooded in the ark for 150 days with two of each kind of animal (but seven of each kind of clean animal, because provision was made not only for the survival of Noah’s family, but also provision for continued worship of God).  After the 150 days, they had to wait months longer for the waters to recede and the land to dry before coming out of the ark.  Noah’s family took care of an ark full of animals for more than 150 days.  They probably lost a lot of sleep!  As for me, I only have two cats and get to leave the house.  I also have allergy medicine to make it more tolerable.

Looking back at Psalm 8, the last verse declares: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

This Lord is the same one who brought Noah, his family, and those animals through the flood.  He also cares about my family and even my pets.  In seemingly small acts like taking care of pets God has given us, we can declare the majesty of God’s name!  In whatever influence we have, big or small, God wants us to participate faithfully in the work started at creation, with the authority He has given us.

In addition to perhaps cats, what else might we be allergic to? Sin is not just a list of things we shouldn’t do, but it is our allergy to God’s dominion over the world and the way we each should have dominion over it and under him. We’re too often allergic to loving this world the way he did on the cross, yet we claim to hope for a world where that sacrificial love governs 100% of all actions.

Our Lord wants nothing more than to greet us in Paradise and say “‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’[1]  He literally died to make such a greeting possible.  Therefore, consider what creatures or people our Sovereign God has delegated to each of us.  What tasks or roles?  Jobs or ministries?  Do some of those things irritate and annoy us, as if we were allergic?

In aggregate, the church’s role is to have dominion over His entire creation, but not in the way the world would, exploiting everything for our own benefit and casting aside what doesn’t seem useful, but as a servant would.  Like a God who abhors all our sin as if He were allergic but decided to cover our sin with His own precious blood.  The same blood that covers us so that, like a compassionate Father, our Lord can gently say on a Sunday morning after a bad night of interrupted sleep:

“Be thankful you aren’t stuck in an ark for 150 days with thousands of animals.”


[1] Luke 19:17

Presents of Presence: A Holiday Quint of Quotes

Dear fellow travelers,

With mere days remaining until Christmas, here is a Quint of Quotes, five sayings for the holidays!

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” – Simone Weil

“The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world” – Plato

“When given the choice between being right or being kind choose kind.” – from the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Paul, in Ephesians 4:32

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – guardian angel Clarence Oddbody, in It’s a Wonderful Life

Merry Christmas to all my readers – first timers, occasional passersby, and a handful of regulars!

Our Mighty God: What We Need for Christmas…Part 3

According to James Boice (see first post in the series), if you asked people to honestly describe their needs, they might describe one as: “We…have wills, and because we have wills, we want to achieve something. We want our lives to make a difference. To do that we need power.”[1]  This is a second need of us all, according to James Boice.  In Isaiah 9:6, Jesus, the Christ of Christmas, is described as our Mighty God, who Boice says “will empower us for life’s tasks” – those tasks He points us to in His wisdom.

The word Mighty probably calls to mind miraculous events, military victory, or superhero-like powers.  But ultimately, His greatest objectives for us – to love Him and to love our neighbor – are what He uses His might to accomplish.  When our Wonderful Counselor (see last post in series) gives wisdom to make a choice in life, He actually wants us to act on that choice because He knows how it will turn out – for our ultimate good – but what if we don’t agree with the choice, or don’t have the willpower to make it?

Photo by Hert Niks on Unsplash

God, unlike Lucy in the Peanuts comics, will not tell us to kick the football, then pull it away at the last second, leaving us on our back.  To those who trust Him, He will provide the ability to make a loving difference in the world.  As Mighty God, He puts His own resources and power behind His recommended wisdom to produce the desired effect of loving, godly living.

Put another way: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,” as written in 2 Peter 1:3.  He does not empower us to do just anything, or to do whatever we decide; He will empower us to “life and godliness.”  In wisdom, He knows this is what is ultimately worthwhile, and His power creates a new desire and a new influence in us, molding our wills that want to make a difference but may not know how.  His power also works in others to provide what we need, or works to put in our path someone who needs us.

The gift of Jesus as Mighty God meets one of our deepest needs:
“To achieve something worthwhile! Jesus is the Mighty God who enables us to do that. We accomplish worthwhile things through his power.” (Boice)

Do you want to achieve worthwhile things this Christmas and in 2023?  Our Mighty God wants to enable us to love Him and love others.  Seek the wisdom of Christ and become empowered by Him to love as you have never loved before.

This is the second gift of Christ in Christmas.

The next post in the series is here.


[1] From “May 10.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).

Participating in the Psalms IV: Thanksgiving Edition

Often the writers of the Psalms aren’t just trying to teach us about God, but they are trying to share their experience of Him.  As in Psalm 96 and 100, included in earlier posts, Psalm 136 opens with encouragement, or even instructions, to join the Psalmist in thanksgiving:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
     for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
     for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
     for his steadfast love endures forever” – Psalm 136:1-3

All 26 verses of this Psalm end with the phrase “for his steadfast love endures forever,” following something about God that is worthy of praise and thanksgiving.  This constant repetition is a reminder that it is “his steadfast love” for His people that drives His acts of creation, His works in history, and ultimately His death on the cross.  His works are all done by a person, for a people.  What God really desires is relationship with us. We are not alone in the universe.

Giving thanks only makes sense if someone exists to thank, who is good, and has the power to provide what we are thankful for.  If creation is a mere accident, if wicked acts are never corrected and righteous acts are never rewarded, and if mankind can only hope in themselves, there is no reason to give thanks to someone, or something, else.  Many religions seem to acknowledge this, giving personality and reverence to created things – trees, the sun, the harvest, and so on – but in Christ we can know the Person who is behind it all, and who actually is a Person that loves us.

Therefore, today give thanks to the Lord who is good, and is above any god or lord of this world.  As we celebrate Thanksgiving today in the United States, be thankful above all else that Someone exists to thank, that He is good, and that He has the power, and love, needed to care for His people.  Now and forever.

Amen.


Earlier posts on Participating in the Psalms are here, here, and here.