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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Purposeful Acts of Sacrifice, Mercy, Compassion And Goodness

It is not knew to assert that I don't believe in New Year Resolutions. I have written elsewhere why. I do believe in goals and principles we ought to practice daily. Lately I've thinking about a motto I want to start using. I initially shared this with my students after we were discussing random acts of kindness. I told them how I don't like the "random" part and wasn't too satisfied with just kindness. So it lead to what I'd like to share. As I often state, what I write is from a Christian's perspective. It is seen through the lens of what I know in Scripture. So here is what I propose to do this coming year.

  With God's help I want to do purposeful acts of sacrifice, mercy, compassion and goodness. All of these are rooted in The Gospel and the end result is to share The Gospel through our lives. As we live our lives as God's letter (2 Corinthian 3:2-3) we demonstrate these qualities. They distinguish us as believers. Let me explain each of the elements.

 They are purposeful acts. They are done with a conscientious intent. They are not random. God's acts are purposeful, not arbitrary (see Ephesians 3:11). They are according to his good intentions and Divine plan. Our salvation was purposeful (2 Timothy 1:9). It didn't come from us. We join him in this plan when we intentionally live our lives for Him (Ephesians 2:10).

 Acts of Sacrifice - The Son's Sacrifice. This is a rare virtue for us who live in a country where we have everything. Little do we sacrifice. And yet, as Christians we understand what this is because the ultimate sacrifice was Christ who died on the cross for us. God became a man, suffered under sinful men, and willingly laid down his life for us (Galatians 4:4-5; 1 Timothy 2:5; Matthew 20:18-19). It is through his (purposeful) sacrifice that we are saved when we trust in Him by faith (1 Peter 1:18). His sacrifice is the ultimate example for us to follow. In fact, Jesus said that laying our lives for others is the ultimate act of love (John 15:13). Just like He did.

  Acts of Mercy - Messiah's Mercy (or God's Mercy). God is a merciful God (Micah 7:18). Jesus showed us what mercy looks like. The Gospels show us Messiah's mercy. He often healed as an act of mercy. Mercy is an act that is rooted in the understanding of the sinful human condition and acting to favor others in a tangible way in spite of this. Many of the religious leaders of His time didn't practice mercy even though it wasn't a foreign concept to them. It was something commanded to them in the Old Testament: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 2:8)
Jesus not only demonstrated acts of mercy but called his followers to be merciful even with those who are our "enemies" or those who do evil things against us (Luke 6:27-36).
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7)
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

We can start by praying for mercy ourselves. Here is a prayer by St. Jerome:
Oh Lord, show your mercy to me and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded, and left for dead: O Good Samaritan, come to my aid. I am like the sheep that went astray: O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with your will. Let me dwell in your house all the days of my life and praise you forever and ever.

Acts of Compassion - Christ's Compassion (or God's Compassion). Compassion is the understanding and empathy of people's conditions and needs. It is an internal feeling that should motivate us to do acts of mercy. Both mercy and compassion go together but are not necessarily always connected (see mercy above). I can do an act of mercy without really having compassion (e.g. I can show mercy to someone that does evil things against me without having compassion). I can have compassion and not do an act of mercy.

God is a compassionate Father:
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. 15 The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. 17 But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— 18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103:13-18 - NIV)

Jesus's shows us the example of both compassion and mercy (Matthew 20:29-34). We should strive to have both. Jesus was often moved with compassion and acted mercifully. Here is a sermon on Christ's compassion by the Prince of Preachers.

Christ compassion is summarized well in these verses:
"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:35-36)

Acts of Goodness - God's Goodness.
One of God's attributes is his goodness:
"Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever." (Psalm 107:1-NIV)

God defines what is intrinsically good not us. If we define what is good then it becomes subjective and an act viewed evil by one can be viewed good by another. We do good things which God calls good. We are incapable of doing good acts without his help (though I can say that there is relative goodness in everyone, traces left of God's image but even this comes from Him).

God is the only one is Good in the ultimate sense of the word:
"No one is good but One, that is,God." (Matthew 19:17)

Everything we have comes from God:
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." (James 1:17)
"“There is such an absolute perfection in God’s nature and being that nothing is wanting to it or defective in it, and nothing can be added to it to make it better. ‘He is originally good, good of Himself, which nothing else is; for all creatures are good only by participation and communication from God. He is essentially good; not only good, but goodness itself: the creature’s good is a super-added quality, in God it is His essence. He is infinitely good; the creature’s good is but a drop, but in God there is an infinite ocean or gathering together of good. He is eternally and immutably good, for He cannot be less good than He is; as there can be no addition made to Him, so no subtraction from Him’ (Thos. Manton). God is summum bonum, the highest good.” "(A.W. Pink)

Acts of Goodness summarizes all of the other three. All four of these lead again to The Gospel. The goal is for other to see the embodiment of The Good News, that is, that God has sent us a Savior to rescue us from our sins of which we are witnesses. And Rejecting Christ's mercy will lead to a tragic end.

Let us do purposeful acts of sacrifice, mercy, compassion and goodness!

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