Friday, December 22, 2006

Opening Your Spiritual Gifts (Day 20)

Mercy or compassion is the spiritual gift of those Christians empowered by God to personally undertake and to incite fellow Christians to do something about the needs of others.

Many people at Friendship Lutheran Church and at one of our neighboring Lutheran congregations remember a man named Fred. Fred was a member of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection and headed a committee there that assisted people in need from throughout our area: people who were hungry, behind on their rent, unemployed, in need of gas money to get to work, and so on. Fred died several years ago and when he did, it was a loss for both of our congregations and our entire community. We often coordinated our efforts with Fred, especially when he found folks in need in Clermont and Brown counties.

Fred had the spiritual gift of mercy or compassion. He worked to coordinate efforts not only among churches, helping to stretch their dollars, but also with various local agencies.

But Fred was no pushover. He made certain that people asking for help weren’t simply plucking others’ heartstrings, taking advantage of them. When he found phonies, he refused to help and alerted other congregations about them.

Of course, we can’t always know if the people who ask our churches or us for help are authentic or not. Several people I know with the gift of compassion have personal rules governing how they approach such circumstances. One says that whenever she encounters a person asking for money on the streets of downtown Cincinnati, she gives them several dollars. “The way I see it, if they’re lying, the onus is on them. I’ve responded, which is what I think God calls me to do,” she says. Another person with this gift, when approached by a person for money for a meal, invites them to go with him to a nearby restaurant. There, he buys them dinner and also talks with them.

One of Jesus’ most famous parables was that of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). In it, a man, a Judean, is mugged, left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Two religious officials, equivalent perhaps to a pastor and a seminary professor in our world, pass by the bleeding man. But a Samaritan, a member of a national group that Judeans hated, bandaged the wounded man, took him to a nearby inn, and provided for his care. Jesus says that all of us are to be that kind of neighbor and that our neighbor is anyone whose need is made known to us.

But those with the gift of compassion have a special heart for those in need. Compassionate service is the focus of their personal ministries. They challenge the rest of us to fulfll Jesus’ call to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Often personal experiences will prompt those with this gift to use it. In Fred’s case, for example, seeing the needy children of Europe after World War Two caused him to make a personal vow to help those in need whenever he could.

I see the gift of compassion in many members of Friendship. They’re the ones who lead the rest of us in sharing compassionately with others. They well exemplify too, the way this gift is meant to be expressed. In Romans 12:8, Paul says that those with the gift of compassion should express it “in cheerfulness.” There is no more cheerful person than the Christian with the gift of mercy exercising their gift.

Mercy or compassion is the spiritual gift of those Christians empowered by God to personally undertake and to incite fellow Christians to do something about the needs of others.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” (Acts 9:36)

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