The first domino

Driving home from Jacksonville this afternoon around 4:30 pm, the traffic was beginning to build as I merged onto I-95 from 9B. An SUV just ahead of me signaled to merge in front of me, then hesitated for just a moment. I flashed my high beams, encouraging her to cut in front of me. A little wave out the window and she was on her way.

As I drove on, I thought to myself, “Why did I do that?” I’m not always that generous on the highway. More often than not I’m more like, “You’re not cutting front of me. You can merge when I pass. And good luck with that!” And I never think twice about it.

But today was different. I was feeling good, kind, friendly and compassionate. And you know why? I had just had a great experience in Jacksonville. I had to return to the Apple store to get a battery replaced in my MacBook, a necessary chore I hadn’t been looking forward to. When I got to town center, behold, I nabbed a parking spot right in front of the store. As I walked in, I was immediately greeted and my computer was taken in back for the replacement. I knew it would take two to three hours, so I had brought work to do. But no sooner did I sit down with my grande Sbux, when my phone rang. My computer was ready to pick up. I didn’t believe it. In less than thirty minutes? I listened to the message twice. Still dubious. I headed back to the store, found another very close parking spot, and picked up my computer. Yes, it took less than half an hour!

So, on the way home, having had a very positive experience, I was feeling very friendly on the road. You want to cut in? No problem! Have a great day! Whereas I often feel impatient and annoyed driving on the interstate, I was feeling pretty good today. My great experience translated into a great experience for others.

It’s a domino effect, isn’t it? Some initial act of kindness tips that first domino to begin a series of positive events. I made up my mind in that moment that I would try to be that first domino more often.

Denied.

peter-miranda-21643

Photo by Peter Miranda on Unsplash

I just started reading the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, and I think I had forgotten how harsh that prophetic message is. By the end of the second chapter God is basically saying, “Don’t come to me for help. Go to all those gods you’ve been worshiping” (Jeremiah 2:28).

So I began to wonder, at what point could I turn someone away who has been away from the church for a long, long time, but comes back for some a la carte spiritual food? Like someone who you haven’t heard from in about fifteen years who calls up one day and says, “Can I get my kids baptized this Sunday?” Or another who stops by the church now and again and sends an email asking me to do their wedding eighteen months from now. I denied both requests.

Of course I felt guilty. How could I not, seeing as how Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son being welcomed home? And there have been families who have been away for a while who have recently reconnected with the church. And I had no problem with them.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” I always thought Uncle Ben said that to Peter Parker (Spiderman). Actually, it is attributed to Voltaire. Anyway, it applies here. Jesus gives the church the authority to forgive or not, to loose or bind people in their sin.

But how do you know whether to apply mercy or accountability in a given situation? The catechism says you forgive the sins of the repentant. But how do you know if someone is repentant?

The bottom line is, you don’t. You can talk to someone and try to understand their story. You could look for the fruits of repentance. But in the end, you really don’t know. I tend to lean towards compassion, but in the two examples above, I just couldn’t do it.

Sometimes Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you.” Other times he said, “You’re already condemned” (John 3:18). Jesus didn’t like it when the Pharisees shut heaven’s door in people’s faces. Yet he also warned against giving pearls to the pigs.

But Jesus was better at sorting things out. He’s really good at reading hearts and minds.

And he’s great at keeping me on task. I’m not supposed to be a religious sub-contractor, providing various services. I’m just the messenger.

 

Compassion 101

4455072917_1a320c111e_z.jpg

After four weeks of helping take care of my Dad, I spent a week at home catching up on visits, meetings and planning for some summer programs. Dad’s has actually stabilized, we’re getting good care from some overnight companions, and we are retooling our hearts, minds and schedules for some long term care.

Those visits I made last week? They humbled me and got me thinking about our capacity for compassion. I thought I was dealing with a lot. I thought I had a servant’s heart. I’m playing “A” ball compared to these major league caregivers. Continue reading

Compassion for the lost?

In the same conversation I mentioned yesterday another question was posed: “How do you display compassion for the lost?” By “the lost,” we mean those who do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Once again, it’s probably easier to see that in someone else than to see it in yourself. So what does that quality look like? Can you hear it in someone’s voice? Or see it in their actions? Jesus is, of course, the best example. When he shows up and sees a crowd of people, they looked lost to him, like sheep without a shepherd, so he immediately gets to work teaching, proclaiming, and healing (Matthew 9:35-36).

Here’s what I’d look for (not in any particular order):

  • Someone who listens and gets to know people.
  • Someone who truly cares about people and their situation.
  • Someone who’s confident that God’s love includes anyone and everyone.
  • Someone who’s willing to invest time and energy in a relationship.
  • Someone who understands the mercy of God in their own lives.

Are those things evident in my life? Sometimes. But honestly, sometimes not. There’s something to pray about.