I have four kids that I have tucked into bed throughout their childhood. Even now as teenagers I still try to visit them right before they fall asleep, so that I can have one more moment alone with them just to be closer.
Who tucks in the homeless at night? Who watches over them and prays for their dreams to come true?
New York City Relief Outreach Leader Lauren Lee describes just such a thing. She said,
“Every Thursday night I have the privilege of helping Mardum make his cardboard bed right outside of St. Francis of Assisi Church (pictured left). He speaks very little English, but our weekly encounter has grown from a handshake to a hug, a smile to a kiss on the cheek, from a ‘How are you doing?’ to a ‘Can you pray for me?’”
Why would Lauren do such a thing? She is living out one of the core values of New York City Relief. She is living out the heart of God. Not a schmaltzy love that is just fuzzy feelings that are unquantifiable. This is love that has teeth. Lauren backs up what she believes with action. The proof is in the pudding and her actions speaks louder than words.
At New York City Relief, we have four core values and the C in C.O.R.E. stands for compassion. In our world, we describe this as: Tangibly demonstrating God’s love for the poor through humble service.
There is a famous phrase you may have heard, “Talk is cheap.” Sometimes in the church, we are quick to talk about compassion, but slow to do acts of compassion. Compassion is an experience, not a concept. If you haven’t experienced compassion, you may not have experienced Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah described what Jesus’ life on earth would look like:
So he became their Savior.
In all their troubles,
he was troubled, too.
He didn’t send someone else to help them.
He did it himself, in person.
The root of the word compassion is, “suffer with”. Pity is different than compassion. When I think of pity I think of someone encountering someone else’s suffering and thinking, “that’s a shame.”
When Jesus encountered suffering, he suffered too. He felt people’s pain. The Bible says he was moved with compassion. His love was so great that he could not stand to sit by idly. He was compelled to do something for the sick, hungry, lost and hurting.
Rather than receiving compassion, most people challenged with homelessness get kicked when they are down. They get treated like con artists, leeches, and irresponsible losers. People with addictions are similarly treated as social lepers. We certainly don’t want to take on the burden of their problems. God helps those who helps themselves right? But, how did Jesus treat actual lepers who were diseased, despised and contagious?
Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. Mark 1:40-42
Rather than receiving compassion, most people challenged with homelessness get kicked when they are down.
Here is a good litmus test to determine if we have the heart of God burning in us: Are we “moved with compassion?” Do the things that break God’s heart break our hearts too?
There is a reason why we don’t always go there. It hurts to love people in distress. It’s not easy. It’s what has compelled our staff and volunteers during a Relief Bus outreach to sometimes take off their own winter coats or shoes and give them to someone who is freezing. Compassion costs us something.
If our love isn’t tangible, if our love has no action, I’m not sure it’s really love.
The American way to help the poor can come across pretty high-handed. We swing in our rope to save the day with a bag full of oversimplified answers. Here’s four spiritual laws, here’s Romans road. Boom! Love goes deeper than that. Love gets down on the sidewalk like Lauren Lee (pictured below) and listens.
But then the question is, “How do we act? How do we lead people who are hurting to freedom and healing?”
Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Like Jesus, we are called to serve. To become a servant means that we lower ourselves in order to lift someone else up. This lowering is called humility. An all-powerful God who came in the form of a weak human baby and then ultimately laid down his life for us by suffering torture and the death of a criminal paints the picture.
Philippians 2:7 says Jesus emptied himself, he became nothing by taking the form of a servant or slave. He threw away image and reputation. He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross.
Jesus is calling us to walk in his footsteps, take up our cross and imitate his life of love. What does this look like? It looks like love that has teeth. It looks just like COMPASSION.
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