Do We Really Have Compassion for the Lost?

Do you minister out of a compassionate heart or only for your comfort? In other words, do we seek to reach all of humanity with the gospel message of hope and restoration, or do we avoid those that are deeply troubled and seek out instead the people that are more like ourselves? Jesus’ encounter with a mother and daughter should teach us a lesson about this:

Matthew 15:22–23 (NAS): And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.”

What did the disciples see in the demon possessed girl? A pest and a nuisance? Just another broken person that would demand more time, energy, and money? I have heard Christians moan when another drunk comes to church. I have seen the faces of “God’s children” when another mentally disturbed person needs more time in prayer and counsel. I have seen the way that too many needs by the poor can begin to irritate a local body, even when those in need are from within the congregation.

Brethren, look at the verses above! We have a mother pleading for her child. See her desperation! What if you were that mother! Do we see that this woman cries out to the “Lord, Son of David” in hope and reverence, or do we see her as the outsider, the “Canaanite?” She is different. She is desperate. And to some, those differences and desperation are off-putting and repulsive. “Let them go somewhere else. We don’t need that here. This is a respectable place.”

Do we see the demonic and want to push it away, or do we see that she is “cruelly demon-possessed” and our hearts are broken for her bondage and we want to see her set free? Do we cast blame, saying that she probably did this to herself, that these are probably the consequences of her poor choices, and so she deserves what she has become? Do we point to this person as an example to our children of what to avoid, instead of pointing out the need for compassionate Christ-like love?

I fear that we can worship the idol of comfort in our churches and not the God of all Comforts who wants to bring peace to people like the demon-possessed woman. Look around the next time you’re at church. Do the people reflect the needs of broken humanity brought to peace in Jesus Christ, or do they reflect the social comfort of being around respectable people? Then ask yourself, are we more like the Lord or like the disciples when we encounter the deeply troubled?

The Blessed Refining Effect of Trials

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” (Proverbs 17:3)

Just as a crucible and a furnace are used to test the mixture of metals to bring the sludgy waste to the surface, so too the Lord uses adversity and trial to bring our sinful attitudes and actions to the surface to reveal our need for purification. This sanctifying process of being put through a trial is very hard and unpleasant, but is necessary if one wants to become purified. There is no shortcut to this process.

Sickness, disease, economic hardship, difficult relationship issues, and more all contribute to who we are as people. They shape us—sometimes for good, and sometimes for bad. For the Christian, trials and hardship are used by God to draw us closer to him and to show us those areas of our life that need spiritual attention. It is in these trials that we are forced to refocus and take account of the state of our heart. The problem is that sometimes we don’t take advantage of the lessons being taught, but instead we squander the opportunity that is afforded to us.

I remember two occasions when this was illustrated to me vividly. Both occasions were when loved ones were completely incapacitated by injury or illness. Lying on your back in a hospital has a way of getting your attention. For each of these people, it was a sobering time of contemplation. They were helpless and their forced stillness brought about a spiritual awareness of God’s presence. In those long days, the Lord did a work in their hearts, teaching lessons that each needed to hear, but couldn’t because of the busy noise of their everyday lives.

I learned this lesson myself when I too ended up in the emergency room, not on a pastoral visit, but as a patient. I was in excruciating pain and found that no matter what else may have been important before, everything stopped as my body screamed out for my attention. God was beginning his refining process with forcing me to look up to him.

Trials and difficulty are one way that the Lord clears our schedules and removes every other distractions so that he can whisper to our needs and speak to our heart. In these moments it is wise to listen.

Sometimes the trials of life don’t have the same effect. Instead of pointing them to God, they bring out the worst in people and shows what type of character that person truly is inside. They might be all shiny on the outside and look like “pure gold” to everyone when things go well, but a little heat applied through a trial might show a person to be only gold leaf over rusty tin.

The Coronavirus and the political issues on display every day in the news cycle, along with the normal wear and tear of life reveals the “stuff” people are made of. These trials and hardships put on display for all to see what is in their hearts. But instead of looking at your neighbor, I’d ask you to consider your own heart. What has the fire of these trials revealed to you about your own heart? Whatever it is, the Lord waits to hear from you. Go to him to thank him for the refining that he has brought through your trial. And then take some time to listen. He is not silent.

The Lying Allure of Desire

My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.
” (Proverbs 5:1-6)

Although the context of Proverbs 5 clearly is a father’s warning to his son about the dangers of adultery, there is something more basic here that I think we all need to pay attention to if we are to continue walking in holiness.

This “forbidden woman” aligns not only with the tempter/temptress in the area of sex, but there is also a warning against chasing after anything forbidden. Eve desired the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and before her, Lucifer sought to take the place of God by seeking to take the glory that belongs to God alone. Man also seeks to steal God’s glory through pride, and we seek to idolize our own desires, placing them above the will and commands of God.

And what should catch our eye in this section of Proverbs 5 is the desirability of the forbidden object that blinds us to the tragic end that comes when we seek after it. The forbidden woman’s lips drip honey—not only desirable, but speaking with sweet words that are entice us to overlook the wickedness in her words. Her speech is described as being smooth like oil, words which rationalize and clear the way for our sin, without which we might be stopped by a sensitive conscience. These “smooth words” give answers to objections, and resistance is overcome with cool reasoning. Like the neurotoxin of a spider’s sting, the desire numbs the conscience, drawing in its victim slowly and carefully so as not to awaken a sense of guilt.

The fruit looks desirable, and it only makes sense to take it, after all, it offers so many advantages—what fool would pass up the delights that are promised? The fruit may take on many forms and flavors, but the fruit and its poison always fools and the same pathway of promises are never kept.

Hidden under the tongue of honey and smooth oil is a dagger. And the fool who follows this path will find they will awaken from their poison-induced stupor when it is too late. The desire has conceived her deadly spawn within the soul of the fool and has birthed sin. And like tiny parasitoid wasp eggs that have hatched, and the larvae awaken to feast on their host, leading to its tortuous death.

Why would we ever chase the forbidden fruit of sin and its desires? Because we are children of Adam and follow in Adam’s footsteps. And the only hope we have of breaking free from this body of sin and death is to place our hope in the One who resisted every temptation to sin and paid for the penalties of our sins committed upon the cross Romans 7:24-25).

The good news is that Christ, the serpent crusher, has won the victory. And as God’s children, we have been set free to walk in holiness and righteousness. One day, the victory will be complete, the serpent will be cast away into eternal fire, and the temptations will all end. Until then, I pray that we would all take the warnings of Scripture seriously and not allow for sin—even baby sin—to find a hiding place in our hearts, any more than we would allow a poisonous spider to nest in our pillow.