Posted by: Brian Musser | July 12, 2016

A Missional Re-definition of Compassion.

Presented at Christ Community Church of Philadelphia on June 5,2016

I remember the words my grandmother said to me right before I went off to college. “Remember to always look out for number one.” I remember them because at that moment I realized that I totally disagree with that statement. Now I’m not trying to scold my grandmother saying she was wrong and needed to change. Her sentiments behind what she said were out of love and she just wanted me to take care and look out for people trying to take advantage of me. It wasn’t what she meant that rubbed me the wrong way. It was the words of that statement. For the next couple minutes we are going to look at the idea of Christian compassion through the lens of Daniel’s priestly prayer in verses 9:4 – 19 but before we get there I want to spend a moment in

Philippians 2:4-8 (NIV)
4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Sometimes it seems that we have a very limited view of God and the availability of God’s blessings. We act as if God has this ladle and is serving his blessings out of a big metal pot at the closest soup kitchen. And we are all beggars in line waiting to be served. The only problem is that we think God might run out of soup. The question “will there be enough to feed everyone” goes through our heads and eats at us. So in the line we start jockeying for position. We create the reasons why we are more deserving of God’s blessing than those people over there. We start comparing our spiritual resume with that of those in front of us and behind us. We rehearse arguments that if God only had one more ladle left why we should be the one to get God’s blessings and not anyone else. This is a very small God. And it makes us very small followers of a very small God. “Remember to always look out for number one.”

But this is not the way of Christ. Christ sacrificed himself for others, for us. And this should not be the way of Christ followers. We should have the mindset of Christ putting others interests in front of our own. Christ died for us so we should be willing to live like he lived for others.

It is one thing to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world and to sacrifice yourself for the salvation of humanity. It is something different to be you and me. What does it look like for you and me to live our lives like Christ in sacrificial love of others? I think Daniel’s prayer gives us one handle on that picture.

For answers to this question we are going to look at a particular passage of Scripture found in Daniel 9. This is a prayer uttered by Daniel for his people the Israelites. We often think of the Israelites as God’s chosen people and they are but I want to remind you that at this time this is a people so disobedient to God that He has chosen to send them into exile. He has chosen to punish them through the Babylonians because of their sins. I’m going to read it in full stopping from time to time to make some commentary.
Daniel 9:4-19 (New International Version)

4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:
       “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.  7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
       “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

Did you notice how many times Daniel uses the first person plural when referring to the sins of the Israelites? Daniel intentionally, willingly, freely and deliberately accepts the sin of his people as his own. From a human perspective he did not necessarily have to do this. He was taken captive into Babylon as a man probably in his late teens. He could have easily distanced himself from the sins that Israel had committed in the land because of his young age when he went into exile. He could have prayed about what they did back then. He chose not to. He chose to accept moral responsibility for the sins of his people. Also, in scripture Daniel is one of the few people not directly implicated in any sin. He is pictured as a morally righteous person. He is shown as someone who is willing to do the right thing for God no matter how it will affect him. The story about Daniel and the lion’s den is a prime example of this. He could have separated himself from them by his upright and righteous life.

Instead Daniel through his pray becomes one with his people. Their sin is his sin. Their suffering is his suffering. Their punishment is his punishment. Harold A. Sevener says, “Never once does Daniel exclude himself from the sins of the nation. Never once does he blame the people, while claiming to be exempt from their sin problem.” Often we try to define us and them in the most beneficial way for us. We try to use the categories of us and them to limit the guilt we have.

Allow me to illustrate. 91% of outsiders to Christianity between the ages of 16 to 29 label Christianity as anti-homosexual. Sexual morals are important to us and they should be but sometimes we present them to the exclusion of persons. 91% of outsiders don’t think that we are for “family values.” 91% think we are against the homosexual. We have created an “us versus them” mentality. Peter, age 34, says, “Many people in the gay community don’t seem to have issues with Jesus but rather with those claiming to represent him today. It’s very much an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality, as if a war has been declared. Of course each side thinks the other fired the opening shot.” We should openly talk about sex outside of marriage being a sin. That is a good thing to talk about. But how will a homosexual ever come to Christ if we do it in a way that creates the idea that Christ’s representatives here on this earth, Christians, are his/her mortal enemy? How will he/she ever come to know the life changing grace available through Christ if we are afraid of being contaminated by his/her sin? By the way we don’t have to worry about someone else’s sin condemning us. We already have enough sin of our own to condemn us and even if it did

Christ’s grace is sufficient for that, too. God’s blessings can never run out.
Then how does it look when we are defined within society by screaming a certain set of moral values and then Catholic priests get on the news for abusing children and then a Mormon compound is taken into federal custody? To the outsider this is the pinnacle of hypocrisy. Our typical response is to isolate ourselves from the moral guilt by saying “Catholics are not real Christians” and “Mormonism is a cult.” While this has validity within these walls to an outsider it looks like political waffling, name calling, blame shifting and trying to weasel out of trouble. How does it look when we are always condemning other people’s sins and always justifying our own? This may not be what we think we are doing but is it what it looks like we are doing?

Instead of trying to remove himself from guilt, Daniel accepts full responsibility for the sin of his people. As Americans, Evangelicals, Protestants, Christians are there sins that we need to truly own? Who are our people and do we as a people have a collective, moral guilt? Is slavery still an issue? Do we owe something to Native Americans? Japanese Americans? The Jewish people? Muslims? Women? The unborn? Quite often as Christians we try to separate ourselves from the sins of others. We claim that we had no part in slavery. My family wasn’t even here yet but I still choose to identify with a group of people who at one time were responsible. We claim that we had nothing to do with the Crusades. We claim that abortion is their problem and not ours but have we created a culture that makes unplanned pregnancies shameful? We claim that we are not sexual abusers but have we helped in creating a society where men can take advantage of women? We claim that homosexuality is not our issue but theirs. We distance ourselves so that the stink of their guilt doesn’t rub off on us. If Christ acted like the church acts he may have never left heaven.

15 “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. 17 Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

Daniel then turns in his prayer to petition God for grace and mercy for his people. God’s deliverance in the past gives Daniel hope for deliverance in the future. God has shown himself to be merciful in the past so we can expect him to be merciful in the future. God has shown himself to be a gracious and loving God. We can trust in him to be gracious and loving once more. Daniel does not demand that God fulfill his prophecy. Daniel does not claim that he has any right to be heard or any special knowledge of God’s will. Daniel merely and meekly petitions for mercy. His petition for mercy is not based on merit at all. No one, not even Daniel, deserves the mercy of God but everyone can request it. In so doing Daniel becomes like Christ. In accepting the sins of his people as his own and asking for mercy he models Christ. The grace that is available to Daniel and through Daniel to his people is only available because of Christ. And the amazing thing is that God will never run out of His Grace. An infinite God has an infinite amount of Grace available. It doesn’t matter where we are in line. There will always be enough.

Allow me to read to you a quote from Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian from the beginning of the 20th Century. Nothing has done greater damage to our Christian testimony than our trying to be right and demanding right of others. We become preoccupied with what is and what is not right. We ask ourselves, “Have we been justly or unjustly treated?” and we think thus to vindicate our actions. But that is not our standard. The whole question for us is one of cross-bearing. You ask me, “Is it right for someone to strike my cheek?” I reply, “Of course not! But the question is, do you only want to be right?” As Christians our standard of living can never be “right or wrong,” but the Cross. The principle of the Cross is our principle of conduct. Praise God that He makes His sun to shine on the evil and the good. With Him it is a question of His grace and not of right or wrong.

Watchman Nee goes on to illustrate his point with a story. A brother in South China had a rice field in the middle of a hill. In time of drought he used a water-wheel, worked by a tread-mill, to lift water from the irrigation stream into his field. His neighbor had two fields below his, and, one night, made a breach in the dividing bank and drained off all his water. When the brother repaired the breached and pumped in more water his neighbor did the same thing again, and this was repeated three or four times. So he consulted his brethren, “I have tried to be patient and not to retaliate,” he said, “but is it right?” After they had prayed together about it, one of them replied, “If we only try to do the right thing, surely we are very poor Christians. We have to do something more than what is right.” The brother was much impressed. Next morning he pumped water for the two fields below, and in the afternoon pumped water for his own field. After that the water stayed in his field. His neighbor was so amazed at his action that he began to inquire the reason, and in the course of time he too became a Christian.

Let’s take a step back and see this story replayed on a cosmic scale. The Trinity eternally existed in a perfect community, a Holy symphony of us. You have the Father who intimately and passionately and completely loves the Son and the Spirit. Then you have the Son who is perfectly united in love with the Father and the Spirit. Then you have the Spirit who dwells in an eternal Holy relationship with both the Father and the Son. Three persons so completely united in an eternal loving relationship that they are truly one being. The Trinity is the true definition of community. They are the true definition of an “us.” This Trinity creates. This Trinity creates humanity to be in their image. Part of this image was to be in relationship with God; however, because of sin we have severed that relationship. We have become unlike God. We have destroyed relationships. If God is an eternal community of loving relationships, that is the Trinity, and we are the destroyer of relationships, that makes us completely and totally unlike God. The destruction of our relationship with the Trinity has created a true “us versus them.”

From a human perspective God had every right to sever all ties with us. He could have easily chosen to distance himself from us. He would be just to allow us to eternally exist separated from Him. He doesn’t want His holiness to get contaminated by our sin. He doesn’t want His perfection to become infected with our guilt. But this is not the God I serve. The Trinity intentionally, willingly, freely, and deliberately sends Jesus directly into our mess. God becomes man. He lives a perfect human life. He suffers enormous human suffering. He takes on all our human sin and human guilt. On the cross Jesus stinks of the worst of humanity. He dies an atrocious human death. Then three days later he is resurrected into new life. Making his life our model, his death our atonement and his resurrection our hope. Through Jesus, the community of the Trinity missionally leaves heaven and sacrificially becomes human so that He can redemptively restore us to a right relationship with him. As humans this is our God, our savior and our redeemer. You don’t make Jesus Lord. You don’t make Jesus your savior and redeemer. He is the only Lord and the only savior and the only redeemer humanity will ever know. He is God coming into our situation and atoning for our sin so that we can get back right with God. The question is not is Jesus your savior. The question is have you admitted that you need a savior and have accepted him as the only savior you could possibly have. While we were enemies with God Christ died for us. In order for us to be like Christ who are our enemies that we need to die for?

Let’s now turn our attention back to Daniel. Because Daniel knew the grace of God he was able look at his community with grace filled eyes. He wasn’t worried about their sin contaminating him. He was able to be Christ-like and enter into his community and pray the grace of God into their lives. My question for each of you individually and as a church corporately; what communities are you intentionally reaching into to redeem with the grace of God through Jesus Christ. I would like to see the church defined as a people not by the community that sits within these walls but defined by the community outside of these walls that we are intentionally, willingly, freely, deliberately and sacrificially investing ourselves into for the grace of God. Even if we have enemies, Christ died for his enemies and we are trying to be like Christ.

When we see the homeless in our community they are our homeless. What would you want someone to do for you if you were homeless? Go and do it. When we see broken families in our communities they are our families. How would you want the church to treat you if your family was in tatters? Go and treat others that way. When we see single mothers in our community those are our mothers, or our sisters or our daughters. When there is financial greed in our community it is our own sin. When there is sexual sin in our community it affects us as if it were our own sexual sin. Treat those who live a sinful sexual life style as you want Christ to treat you when you are acting sinfully. When there is evil and pain in our community it should be our evil and our pain. There is no “us versus them.” We missionally, sacrificially and redemptively enter into the sin that is all around us as “little Christs,” as Christians. Often as Christians we talk about acting lovingly toward our neighbor, toward the lost. But I don’t want you to act lovingly toward them. I want you to flat out just truly love them. Love them as Christ loved you.

The final question we have to answer is who our community is. Who is God directly calling us to minister to? Who is God calling us to minister to individually and who is God calling us to minister to corporately? It is the question that was asked of Jesus so long ago; “Who is my neighbor?” I cannot answer that for each of you but let me share one conversation with you that I had with a Methodist Minister at Drexel. This minister says to me, “I really feel like I’m neglecting my community and my church because I spend so much time here on this campus with the students.” My reply was, “I know exactly what you are talking about so much so that I have just completely accepted Drexel as my community that I am going to intentionally invest in.” I think each one of us will personally have a different community in which we will invest ourselves into for the sake of the kingdom of God. For some it will be children, others students, others the homeless. For some it will be a geographic location like their street or their apartment building. For others it will be a life situation, pregnant teenagers, or football players, or homosexuals. Ethnic groups are a possibility as well. Religions and worldviews are another category. Then as a body, as a church, you also need to answer this question on a corporate scale. Who is the community, who are the communities that God has called ________________ to minister to? Who are you ministering to locally, regionally, nationally, internationally? Like I said before I pray that someday our community is not defined by who sits inside these walls but by the lives we touch outside of these walls.

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  1. […] Preached at Christ Community Church of Philadelphia:  Compassion.  Using Daniel’s priestly prayer as an example of Christ, we are encouraged to enter into our […]


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