This Will Be A Sign

Much has been said on the topic of compassion and we are not short of explanations of the need and benefits of living a compassionate life.

As I’ve written in other posts, the definition of compassion is to “suffer with” (passion = suffering, com = with). This means that compassion is about loving someone so much that we are moved to face their suffering with them as if we are the ones suffering.

We are very good at defeating suffering. A compassionate person is someone who helps others defeat their suffering as if it was their own.

This is a very unnatural way of living in our society that is obsessed with the self, self-amusement, self-protection, and self-promotion.

Yet compassion is at the very heart of Christianity. Jesus said,

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:35

He also said,

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
John 15:13

Putting the ideas of these verses together: a Christian will be known for his extreme life-laying love for others.

This is what will identify us as Christians.

If this identifier is absent from our lives than it either means something is not right.

What a difficult identifier. People will know you are mine, not by your great achievements, great wealth, and great power, but your great sacrifice, great offering, and great service.

As I was taking a shower, I thought about the idea of compassion, to “suffer with”, and I was reminded of another verse in Matthew 1:23

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:23 NIV)

Immanuel: God WITH us.

The very first name after He given the name Jesus, the very first identifier He took, was this idea of compassion: God, Who is great, is WITH us, who need salvation.

The verse talks about a moment in the time of Isaiah in the Old Testament that when a prophecy is made, a promise of a great miracle (a virgin giving birth is a great miracle) and that miracle would bring forth Divine Compassion.

We can be compassionate because of Immanuel: God with us. And to truly show compassion is to bring others into this amazing relationship that they too may experience God with them.

And when I lose my patience and temper, as I am prone too, I stop and remind myself of Immanuel: God with us, and of another promise of His in Psalms 103:8

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

As I stay in the company of Immanuel, as I bask in grace, forgiveness, and love, I become something else, a true Christian, truly Christ-like, and I naturally become a sign of hope as I am identified with compassion, just as my Savior first made Himself identifiable by His willingness to suffer with me.

Entitled Brats

I think a lot of the popular teaching and books, even religious books, have made people expectant and entitled brats who try to meet the minimum requirements of a formula, do their part of the equation, but are frustrated when the formula doesn’t work, when it seems God was absent, when a prayer wasn’t answered, when others don’t respond as they “should”.

It is a vain approach to seek to do right mainly so that things will go right with us, assuming affirmative answers to our prayers, comforts, and positive responses to our feelings is automatically what’s right. To think that what I want and what I feel is what’s right (many times without thinking about the effect, or impact, or cost on others) is vain and selfish.

Here are a few questions I hear often that hint towards a subtle kind of vanity:

“I’ve been honest and hardworking. Why am I not rich?”
(As if our becoming rich is “what’s right”. Maybe what’s right for us is learning how to steward with less. Maybe it’s contentment we need.)

“I’ve been loving and kind. Why am I single?”
(As if being with someone is “what’s right”. Maybe what’s right for us is to learn how to be whole in God first so we’re not cannibalizing our partners. Maybe we’re called to be busy with other things.)

“I’ve been a good partner. Why is my partner so clueless?”
(As if our perspective on the relationship is “what’s right”. Maybe our perspective is wrong. Maybe we’re being selfish. Have we tried to understand them first? Maybe we’re just as clueless. And if we’re the wiser partner, the one who knows how to do things right, shouldn’t we be the one who is more understanding?)

“I’ve been praying and fasting. Why isn’t my prayer answered?”
(As if our request is “what’s right. As if what we think is good for us is automatically what’s good for us. I hear a lot of people say “I claim this. I claim that.” like kids in a toy store grabbing the item they want. Any wise parent knows that a sure way to destroy your child is to give them everything they request.)

The word vain by the way means empty. The constant prioritization of the self leads to emptiness.

The Bible already makes it clear, if you want to be great the way God defines greatness, be the servant of all, and a servant just serves without expecting more than the master gives.

The key difference between those who serve and find joy, and those who serve but will ultimately be frustrated is motivation. If the motivation is “I have to serve because it’s the right thing to do”, these people will be frustrated when doing the right thing leads them down a path doesn’t seem right.

If the motivation is “God, I love You”, these people will have constant joy because they already have what they seek, which is not a prize from God for doing right, but God Himself.

Finally, an incredibly telling sign is our reaction to when things go wrong or people don’t do as we want. If we are the stars of the show we will respond the way entitled people respond when expectations aren’t met. If we are servants, we will respond as servants – and continue to serve.

Am I Important to You?

Someone once asked me whose message I thought was better: John Piper or Joseph Prince, two very popular Christian preachers and authors with wide followings, and two people with the initials JP (not that that’s significant).

While I’ve lately been reading and listening to John Piper, who, along with Timothy Keller and Peter Kreeft, have become compelling sources of wisdom for me, I remember answering, “No idea. Don’t see why I have to compare the two.”

Here’s why: The essential question isn’t so much whether you follow John Piper or Joseph Prince, or whether you’re a Calvinist or Armenian, or which church you go, or whether you speak in tongues or not, or whether you think Pope Francis is a great guy, or whether divorce should be allowed, or whether gays should be allowed to marry, or whether a loving God would send people to hell, or all the other contentious topics. The essential question, the question we must ask ourselves first, the question we must keep answering, is simply this: Do I love Jesus most? And if I say I do, do I live in such a way that reflects that love, particularly in how I love others?

Because the issue is “Where is my heart?”

What can we say of a man who proclaims he loves a woman yet continuously and deliberately does the things that pain her, and yet, because she once told him she loves him, keeps making claims to her forgiveness and goodness, and manipulates and pressures her into positions because of the strength of his arguments? Can we really say he loves her? What we can say for sure is this: For a man to be fine with hurting the person he claims to love, for him to claim his entitlements after doing so and to force his way, that man must love himself more than her. And that’s not love, at least not the love of the Bible, because that kind of love is life-laying, not right-claiming.

Many times I’m like this with God. I make claims to His promises yet continuously and, admittedly, sometimes deliberately, do the things that pain Him, then when life gets tough, I go back and make claims to His forgiveness and love this time, which He is generous to give. But what does this really say about me? What does it reveal about my heart?

I love myself more than God.

It reveals that I am not life-laying. I am right-claiming. Life-laying says, “I love you. Have your way – even if it’s at the expense of mine.” Right-claiming says, “If you love me, then you should deliver what I believe I deserve.”

If a person, through the ministry of Joseph Prince, truly loves Jesus and lays his life down for others, and because of this has a passion for incredible grace and generosity and forgiveness, who am I to say he is wrong? He is as right as any of us can ever be, like everyone, not knowing everything, but walking “with” the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

If a person, through the ministry of John Piper, truly loves Jesus and lays his life down for others, and because of this has a passion to teach, to strengthen the theological foundations of others, and to adhere strictly to dogma who am I to say he is wrong? Again, he is as right as any of us can ever be, like everyone, not knowing everything, but walking “with” the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

A person who doesn’t really love God will follow the ideas most agreeable to him without embracing its essential practice: life-laying love.

Someone who claims to be in the extreme grace camp, but does not put life-laying love first, will most probably be licentious, and because of this be unstable. One cannot find rest in a pattern of disobedience and repentance. I know this from experience as I have been like this.

Someone who claims to be in the camp of strict theological interpretation, but does not put life-laying love first, will most probably be proud and unforgiving, merciful only to those willing to see as they do, open to those only who think the same, and argumentative, even hostile, to those of different interpretation, especially towards those of wrong interpretation. I know this from experience too.

Yet both ways are wrong, not because God’s extreme love and forgiveness is wrong, not because strict theological obedience is wrong either, they’re actually both correct, but because we’re trying to erect teachings without the foundation of love. They both don’t stand the two tests that should show the presence of Jesus in our lives:

Test #1 is 1st Corinthians 13:4-7
Is it loving? Meaning, let’s say my belief is correct, am I patient? Am I kind? Am I envious? Am I boastful? Am I proud? Am I dishonouring others? Am I self-seeking? Am I easily angered? Do I keep a record of wrongs? Do I delight in evil? Do I rejoice in the truth? Do I seek to always protect, trust, and hope? Do I persevere?

Test #2 is Galatians 5:22
Is the fruit of the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, who I claim to love, present in me, and if so, is love, joy, peace, patience (or forbearance), kindness, goodness, and faithfulness so evident in my life?

To be honest, in times of my life I’ve been high on ideas of grace, high on ideas of theological supremacy but very thin on the proof of Jesus being inside me, which is simply the flourishing of love, and all that it truly is, in my life,

Am I More Important?
People who follow my updates will know two things:

1. I love working. I incredibly enjoy building things and figuring things out, and making things happen.
2. I’ve seriously entered into a relationship.

And sometimes these two things get in the way of each other…

After having dinner, while driving Yasmin home, she turned to me and asked me, “Am I important to you?”

It caught me a little off-guard but I answered, “Yes, of course. Of course you’re important to me. What kind of a question is that?”

She quickly followed this up with “More important than your work?”

I was reminded of this moment as I read my Bible this morning. As I sit on this lone beanbag, I imagine Jesus turning to me and asking, “Am I important to you?”

“More important than your work?”

“More important than your feelings?”

“More important than your dreams?”

“More important than your hopes?”

“More important than your honour and respectability?”

“More important than your success?”

“More important than your comforts or the comforts of the ones you love?”

“More important than your convenience?”

“More important than your books?”

“More important than your arguments?”

“More important than your safety?”

“More important than your money?”

“More important than your relationships?”

“More important than winning?”

“More important than the comments of others?”

“More important than the failures of others and how they affect you?”

In short, I can imagine Jesus asking, “David, am I more important than you? And if I am, why do you live like I’m not, as seen from how you invest your time, energy, and money, and how you respond when things don’t go your way, or people disagree, or mistakes happen, or your pride when you succeed?”

You see, love elevates the meaning of “right”. With love, it’s not enough to be able to justify ones actions. In true love, what is “right” is what pleases the one you love. If we truly love Jesus, what is “right” is what pleases Him. And if we truly love Him first, what is “right” is what pleases Him even if it displeases others, simply because we have made Him most important.

We cannot displease Him with disobedience and claim to love Him, neither can we displease Him with impatience and lack of mercy and lack of forgiveness, pride and claim to love Him as well. And we cannot claim spiritual “rightness” if do not truly love Him.

This is why, more than the practice of study, more than the practice of discipline, more than the practice of arguing, more than the practice of inspiration and encouragement, and these are all good, superior to these is the practice of humility for without humility there can be no love.

After all, if I am more important, more valuable, why then should I lay my life down for those of less value?

But Christian love says, “Jesus, You are most valuable, and so I lay my life for You, and since You ask me to lay it for others, I will do so to please You.”

And here is the most amazing part, and I’ll end with this, as I think about what it means to truly be a Christian, to be loving and life-laying, I am strongly moved by the memory of the Cross, Jesus laying Himself, saying, “David, come see forevermore, you are most important to me.”

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8