Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.
6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Empathy is the feature of our own emotional health that allows us to resonate with another human being. It keeps them from being just a fixture in our own little world, and places them on equal footing with us. Empathy reinforces humanity, it directs our hearts toward the needs & suffering of others, and it guides us to action to see justice done for the oppressed. Empathy stirs our heart, it engages our mind, it motivates our spirit to do what it best for someone other than our self. It is a gift that keeps us alive, sane, and functioning as a member of a responsible, God-honoring culture & worldview.
Being emotional has often been viewed as a weakness. There have been people and cultures that have maintained that a strict anti-emotionalism will help you to be a better human being, that it helps you to ‘grow up’ and deal with the hardships of life better. For some, being detached emotionally is a sign that you have accepted reality and are now able to function as an adult. Emotionalism is for the weak.
This couldn’t be any farther from the truth, and we can look to Jesus for our example.
When meeting with people who were in need, hurting and broken, Jesus’ response was never cold and calculated, detached and solely observant. Listen:
Matthew 15:32 “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”
Mathew 8:14-15 “14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.”
Matthew 9:1-3 “And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Mark 10:14 “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Luke 19:41 “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,”
John 5:6 “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?””
John 11:32-35 “32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
The common thread between Jesus, the people, their situation and the emotional response that Jesus had comes down to two small words “He saw.” That’s it. He observed their suffering, their situation, and simply in the seeing, His heart was provoked by emotion. And in that ’emotional’ state, Jesus acted in the mercy and justice of God to do what was right. He related to those who suffered, and He helped them carry their burdens, and usually took them all together.
This is the example of Christ. This is empathy at work. God is not cold and detached. There is not maturity that results in dismissing the heart and hurt of people who suffer.
Can emotion be used to take advantage of others, can sob stories capture the heart of another and remove them from rational thought? Absolutely. But don’t let the possibility of feeling deeply keep you from feeling. Don’t ever let the possibility of someone’s dishonesty keep you from serving others as Christ already has served them. Empathy doesn’t just keep others human in our own hearts, it keeps us human, too. A lack of empathy, a lack of compassion kills our own heart, and allows us to focus solely on self, dehumanizing others and seeking comfort away from their suffering. It removes us from the sphere of the work of God.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Empathy & wisdom, paired together, help us walk in the path of the truth & mercy of God as we follow Christ.
Empathy without wisdom condones improper behavior and sinful struggles. Sometimes people hurt because of poor life choices and an improper worldview. These are the instances where empathy leads to compassion which leads to loving correction. It doesn’t keep us from meeting with them, but it guides us as we seek to guide them toward God, understanding their brokenness & our own.We are all responsible for our own choices & actions.
Knowledge without empathy is simply a cold observation of one’s perception of reality. It is cold and uncaring, even if we are right in regards to observing their moral transgressions. God’s mercy in the face of His own justice revealed grace for us & a glorification of Himself in the process. Had He simply observed, we would remain dead in our sin, damned by our own broken actions & motivations.
Pairing them together, we are kept responsible to God & others, seeing a need, and meeting a need while engaging the heart of the other as Christ has done, and drawing them toward Him. Mercy & justice, working together.
6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.
“44 Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses commanded him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors in turn received it and with Joshua brought it in when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers, until the days of David. 46 He found favor in God’s sight and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built Him a house. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, as the prophet says:
“49 Heaven is My throne,
and earth My footstool.
What sort of house will you build for Me?”
says the Lord,
“or what is My resting place?
50 Did not My hand make all these things?”
God knows our needs. He does not react to our needs or desires. He needs nothing we can offer. Here in Acts 7, Stephen remids the Sanhedrin that the tabernacle and the temple that they are so attached to, so proud of, isn’t something that God needs in order to be worshipped. He doesn’t require an edifice in order to dwell among His people or to receive sacrifices. God has accomodated the human need to have a set place to do things, but He doesn’t need a building in order to be worshipped. The earth is His, and everything in it, so why would He require something extra in order to interact with mankind? God is not deficient in any way, He does not lack or need.
Stephen is saying this to them because the crowd He was addressing was so hung up in their rituals, rites and ceremonies that they had lost sight of the bigger picture. God didn’t need any of those things they were so worked up over. Instead, He instituted them so that we would have what we needed in order to worship Him consistently. That repeated minsunderstanding, about Jesus tearing down the temple, was something that really struck a chord with them. They saw that as a kind of ‘ultimate insult’ against who they were and the honor of God. At the end of chapter 6, this comes up yet again just before Stephen begins his sermon.
We forget that God doesn’t -need- us in order to be worthy of worship. God doesn’t have human attitudes or issues of selfishness. He isn’t sustained by our singing and sacrifices, and even if there were no church budilings anywhere, God would still be glorified. We spend a lot of time and effort on things that are simply not the ‘main thing’ because we think too small when we think of God. And often when we think of God and His expectations, we are actually thinking about our own wants and needs and desires, rather than what He has actually asked for…
The issues that Stephen was addressing with the men in the Sanhedrin are issues that people still get hung up on today. People reverence a church building or a tradition more than God Himself. They get upset over the decorations on the inside of the church, or the style of music, or how people dress rather than concerning their own hearts with God Himself. The temple didn’t make the people of Israel, and the worship center doesn’t make the church. It is so much more than these basic, physical things. But being small and finite, we forget this and get hung up in the details rather than getting hung up in God.
As we GoLove people, we need to make sure that we are portraying an accurate picture of who God is, what His expectations are of us, and how we are to properly reverence and worship Him. And that means we have to move beyond what is simply a human need and look to what God really and truly desires of us, not what we think He “needs.” God doesn’t want pews and stained glass. God wants our hearts.
“31 Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. 32 He was openly talking about this. So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
33 But turning around and looking at His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan, because youre not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s!””
It always catches my attention that Peter, in one breath, is uttering something directly revealed to him by God and in the next is being rebuked by Jesus because His mind and heart had been so quickly turned to the flesh & its concerns.
Reading over this today, I was reminded just how quickly my own heart and mind can pivot from a God honoring attitude to one that worships self instead. Now, at this point, Peter did not have the indwelling of the Spirit, and so I cannot speak to what this situation would have played out like if he had, but even in the direct presence of Jesus, he was so quickly in two different places that a deeper look must be taken to examine why.
We all know that the Jews wanted a ‘right here, right now rescue us from the Romans’ Messiah. They wanted a king who would liberate them forever from under anyone’s thumb and bring about the returned rule of Israel and restore her to glory among the nations and powers of the world. That’s no surprise. And so the ‘suffering servant’ Messiah ideal was pushed aside for the desire to see this physical kingdom come into play.
Scripture was plain and clear on what needed to take place first, that the Messiah would suffer and die, carrying the sins of humanity as a sacrifice in our place. Then, later, He would rule and reign forever, both as Great High Priest and as King over all. So, we don’t wonder why Peter was of a divided mind and heart, but this sudden switch is just such a reminder that we can have our hearts so set on something that isn’t laid out in God’s plan, and be so passionate about it to tell Him He’s wrong in how He’s doing things.
“God! This isn’t supposed to happen this way!”
“God, I don’t think You know how badly I need this right now!”
“God, why are you doing this to me?”
And so many other questions that imply that God just doesn’t see what needs to be done in the right way and in the right time. The implication that His plan just isn’t cutting it…
We can be so close to Him in one moment, and then have that quick turn away to the -things- and priorities that matter most to our flesh, more so than our spirit and the heart of God. We must seek Him first, His Kingdom, His righteousness, and then (Matthew 6) God will provide for those things we need as a good father should.
Our call to GoLove others is a continued denial of self and a chasing after Him. It is a resignation of what we may have determined to be priority for what God says the real priority really is, and more often than I’d like to admit, my plans and His are not on the same page. My impatience, my pride, my ideas (see all that ‘me’ focus?) drive me rather than stillness and resting in Him, seeking His wisdom through prayer, meditation, in His Word and from Godly-counsel. We must all repent from that secondary mind that Peter exhibits here, and seek God’s leading instead if we are to be faithful witnesses for Him, seeking Him in truth.
“33 Do not defile the land where you are, for bloodshed defiles the land, and there can be no atonement for the land because of the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of the person who shed it. 34 Do not make the land unclean where you live and where I reside; for I, Yahweh, reside among the Israelites.”
Chapter 35 talks all about the cities of refuge, how to handle deaths, both accidental and malicious, and it deals directly with the concept of bloodshed and justice. No one should ever desire the death of another person. Death, when linked with revenge, never satisfies the hurt inside due to loss and anger. All it does is remove one component physically from the mix from that point forward. The pain will still exist, the anger still lingers and depending on what happened, justice may or may not have even been served in the process.
That distinction, though, between killing and murder, is an important one, and makes for interesting conversation, but the point is this: the taking of a human life is a very serious thing and there is no easy recovery that goes along with it. When God speaks in verse 33, He is very plain, ‘bloodshed defiles the land.’ We see this today in all of these recent killings and murders that have gained national attention. Murder, or even the suggestion of it, stirs people and communities in a deep way. Killing is devastatingly difficult to deal with, and the families and neighbors of those killed still have to choose how they are going to respond. Life has still be taken, and anger springs up when a foolish decision brings it upon them. The land is defiled when murder occurs, when blood is shed in anger, hate and discord. The two police officers who were shot, assassination style, in New York serve as a prime example of what anger, ignorance and discord can create. Tragedy comes from these things, and families are left broken and mourning that should have been whole and celebrating this week. Their land has been defiled by one man’s anger and lack of understanding, and now three are dead, three families and communities mourn, and discord still runs strong after the fact. This is the definition of needless pain. And so it continues.
Human life is precious, it was designed to be so, and so it cannot be taken lightly or easily. We were not spoken into being like the animals, but sculpted, formed and God Himself breathed life into our nostrils. That is part of what makes the distinction between mankind and animals. We are not animals. But when we act like them, that difference shows. A hawk can kill a sparrow and nothing changes, everything is okay. A vicious dog can kill another animal, and in reality, the world stands unmoved. But when people die, are killed or murdered, the souls of those surrounding are touched in a way that nothing else can duplicate. And when murder is the culprit, the land is defiled, and reconciliation for hearts is nearly impossible. Every life matters. Color plays no part in whether a life matters. Race/ethnicity plays no part in whether a life matters. Gender plays no part in whether a life matters. Age plays no part in whether a life matters. Occupation plays no part in whether a life matters. Every human life, from conception forward matters. And because every life matters, no life can be taken lightly. We would do well as we GoLove in Christ’s Name to remember this, to encourage this and to teach this to every one we can, because Jesus came so that all might find life everlasting, if they will put their pride aside and come to Him. Then His life is in us and everything changes.
Human ‘justice’ is always tainted, always incomplete. Try as we might, we cannot act in complete justice on our own because even the best judge carries a bias, an agenda in their heart. We are sinful, and we cannot guarantee our ability to make fully correct decisions because of its influence on us. And so we find ourselves crying, ‘Injustice!’ when we see those in authority either abusing their power or themselves being abused by wicked people. And the pendulum swings both ways. We can be very good at getting it wrong sometimes.
Recent events are proof enough of this. People must be held accountable for their individual actions, whether as a criminal or in the name of justice. We are each responsible for our actions and reactions, and we cannot guarantee that they will always be well thought out or well intentioned. And so justice is left wanting sometimes and in other occasions, justice is meted out, and people still do not like it because of their own personal bias. Every human life matters, and every human decision must be honestly weighed out on the scales of God’s justice, not man’s.
Only in the justice of God will we ever truly find satisfaction. Only in the justice of God will ever truly see fairness, goodness, righteousness, and truth honestly applied. Only in the justice of God will the wicked be properly punished and the righteous be honestly upheld. On earth, with sin as our companion, justice will always seem lacking to someone. But in God’s justice, all will be satisfied, all will be fairly weighed and truthfully convinced. God’s justice is perfect, right and good. And until that final judgment, we will continue to find occasion for dissatisfaction in the human alternative.
Our calling to GoLove others in Christ, telling them about the Gospel of truth is a sharing of God’s justice, His grace and His mercy. Where we are so bad at showing grace in the face of perceived injustice, God’s grace shows love, mercy and compassion and yet He still sees His justice done through Christ. Either we receive the due weight of our penalty, or we hide in Christ’s sacrifice, and in the end justice is done, and done perfectly. We need not be concerned that it will be done. Everyone will be judged, again, either according to our sin, or according to our covenant with Christ, and justice will be done. Until that day, we will still experience injustice from the hands of humanity, and until that day, we must trust in God’s perfect timing, justice and truth.
A Cry against Injustice
For the choir director: Do Not Destroy. A Davidic Miktam.
“1 Do you really speak righteously, you mighty ones?
Do you judge people fairly?
2 No, you practice injustice in your hearts;
with your hands you weigh out violence in the land.
3 The wicked go astray from the womb;
liars err from birth.
4 They have venom like the venom of a snake,
like the deaf cobra that stops up its ears,
5 that does not listen to the sound of the charmers
who skillfully weave spells.
6 God, knock the teeth out of their mouths;
Lord, tear out the young lions fangs.
7 They will vanish like water that flows by;
they will aim their useless arrows.
8 Like a slug that moves along in slime,
like a womans miscarried child,
they will not see the sun.
9 Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns —
whether green or burning —
He will sweep them away.
10 The righteous one will rejoice
when he sees the retribution;
he will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Then people will say,
“Yes, there is a reward for the righteous!
There is a God who judges on earth!””
Have you ever returned from vacation, or a trip and had a friend ask you something along the lines of, “Did you have a chance to see/experience/try __________?” Only to have to answer, “No. Where was that? I didn’t even know it was there.” Our perception is limited. Our lifetime is short. Things that are obvious to others we may not even notice because we are flitting so quickly through every single day. And it’s not for a lack of caring, it is simply the human condition in our sinful world. There is only so much time, and there is so much more to see and do. It cannot all be seen, it cannot all be experienced. Yet somewhere within us is this feeling that we know and understand everything so well.
Pride tells us that we are masters and experts when we are only children and inexperienced.
But God loves us enough to correct us, to train us and to point our hearts toward righteousness. As we walk in step with the path of our Master, Jesus, He strengthens us, disciplines us, and corrects us so that He is honored and glorified by us. He shows us the error of our ways and the reality of our mortality. This is love rather than letting us simply burn white hot and expire in our ignorance and sin, our Heavenly Father shows us what is right in His Word, through His creation and by the Holy Spirit’s call on our hearts as Christians.
Nobody wants their life to be fruitless, pointless or forgotten. Nobody wants to feel foolish. If we are to have any hope in this brief life, it can only be through God who first loved us enough to provide a way before we even knew we needed one. And so, with this wisdom, we should GoLove, even as we have been loved. We take to heart what He says, we consider our ways and we submit to His authority. This, Solomon says, it the whole purpose of our lives: ‘to fear God and obey His commands.’ And to honor Him in this way stands as a testimony to the world!
“1 I said, I will guard my ways
so that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle
as long as the wicked are in my presence.
2 I was speechless and quiet;
I kept silent, even from speaking good,
and my pain intensified.
3 My heart grew hot within me;
as I mused, a fire burned.
I spoke with my tongue:
4 Lord, reveal to me the end of my life
and the number of my days.
Let me know how short- lived I am.
5 You, indeed, have made my days short in length,
and my life span as nothing in Your sight.
Yes, every mortal man is only a vapor. Selah
6 Certainly, man walks about like a mere shadow.
Indeed, they frantically rush around in vain,
without knowing who will get them.
7 Now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in You.
8 Deliver me from all my transgressions;
do not make me the taunt of fools.
9 I am speechless; I do not open my mouth
because of what You have done.
10 Remove Your torment from me;
I fade away because of the force of Your hand.
11 You discipline a man with punishment for sin,
consuming like a moth what is precious to him;
every man is only a vapor. Selah
12 Hear my prayer, Lord,
and listen to my cry for help;
do not be silent at my tears.
For I am a foreigner residing with You,
a temporary resident like all my fathers.
13 Turn Your angry gaze from me
so that I may be cheered up
before I die and am gone.”