Dictionary.com defines “compassion” as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Galatians 6:2 states, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Both of those descriptions are overshadowed in our culture today by the all consuming theme of “Looking out for #1.” Whatever happened to the expression “There but for the Grace of God, go I”? How easily we forget that we could end up in their shoes.
Dr. Charles Swindoll addresses this issue in his devotion titled, “A Place to Unload.” Let’s read it together:
A Place to Unload
This thing called life is an awfully long journey. For some, it seems an endless trip, filled with thankless responsibilities and relentless tasks, disappointments and deadlines, and daily demands.
Being imperfect doesn’t help. Every so often we make stupid decisions. We say things we wish we could retrieve. Selfishly, we look out for number one and later regret it. We act impulsively and realize, after the fact, how foolish we were, how dumb we looked. On top of all that, we hurt the ones we love the most. All this stuff caves in on us at certain times, and we wonder how anybody could ever love us . . . especially God.
When we start thinking like this, we need to turn our mind to the “one anothers” in the New Testament. Here’s just a sampling: Love one another, build up one another, live in peace with one another, confess your sins to one another, speak to one another, admonish one another, comfort one another, pray for one another.
I deliberately saved my favorite for last, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
Imagine two mountain hikers trudging along, each carrying a backpack. The one on the left has a tiny, light pack that a kid could carry, while the poor soul on the right is so loaded down we can’t even see his head or his body.
Let’s imagine what he might be lugging in that pack on that long road. It could be a long-standing grudge that’s poisoning his insides. It might be a broken relationship with his wife or one of his kids. That pack could be loaded with unpaid bills, all of them overdue.
The question is, Where can that fella on the right go to unload so the fella on the left can help “bear the burden”? By sitting in church alongside a few hundred or a couple thousand other folks? Hardly. What he needs most is to be involved in an adult fellowship in a small-group setting, a place where there is person-to-person caring and the opportunity for authentic sharing. Where he will feel free, without embarrassment or shame, to tell his secret or state his struggle; where someone will listen, help him unload, and give him fresh strength.
Adult fellowships and small groups are no miniature church services. They are pockets of people who love Christ and believe in helping one another. They don’t point fingers or preach or compare. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Once you begin unloading that pack, you’ll discover how much easier the journey seems.
I’m not sure how many years or maybe decades ago this particular devotion was written since the devotional book it came from is a compilation of experiences from Dr. Swindoll’s life and ministry. I’ve read many of his books starting back in the early 1980’s and he has a way of hitting the nail on the head and saying it in such a way that not only is filled with the compassion from a pastor’s heart but also admonishment when needed. And he calls a spade a spade in clear, easy to understand language. He speaks truth and doesn’t detour around the hard topics (like sin). And he’s one of my very favorite Christian writers.
I’ve been a part of small churches with barely a hundred or so members, and also several megachurches, including the largest megachurch in America when I lived in Houston. I used to be involved in adult fellowships and small groups especially in the larger churches as it’s hard to get to know anyone on a personal basis in a megachurch without being involved in some way (either volunteering or in a small group), but I steer away from that now.
One of the statement in Dr. Swindoll’s devotion above hit a sore spot with me–and not because it wasn’t accurate at the time he wrote it but because I don’t believe it is all that accurate in our current culture with it’s unrelenting focus on self, materialism, money, greed, and gossip. Now gossip has always been around but it has spread like cancer in our churches and nobody is even trying to stop it. And it’s a little hard to let your hair down and be real in a small group that gossips behind your back when you’re not around. And I’m not so sure by their actions and attitudes that they really are “my brothers and sisters in Christ.” And they don’t appear to have my best interest in mind, either. And help with my load? Really?
Welcome to “Churchianity” in America 2012–the land of “looking out for #1” above anything or anyone else. I don’t get a “warm, fuzzy feeling” walking into a church anymore. For the most part, except on Sunday morning, folks in church don’t act any differently then the rest of the culture. While nobody is perfect I remember years ago a time when I actually felt people (well some at least) in the churches I attended might actually care, but no more. Many churches in America have turned Christianity into a money-making business just like any other business out there (and just look at all the “million-dollar” ministries that exist in America today–not saying that all of them are bad but most of them have the “bottom line” in mind and most like living the lifestyle of the “rich and famous” and are selling you on it, too). After all, we all want “the good life,” right? And they are good at selling us on how to find “the good life” (which has also made them rich). Most of the time it just doesn’t happen to include Jesus. Remember Jesus?
But back to the topic at hand. The last place I’d feel safe to “unload” anything of any importance or a burden is with anyone who calls themselves “Christian” right now. Many (but not all) have given me lots of reason why I can’t trust them over the past few years. Not everyone, mind you, as I still remember a wonderful woman at the church I attended in Houston who slipped me a $20 bill one Sunday (I didn’t realize it until after she left to go home after church) when she heard I had lost my job and she also gave me several job leads which, unfortunately, didn’t pan out for me but it was sure more than anybody else did. And, I knew her particular situation and knew that $20 was a real sacrifice on her part as she was single, self-supporting and fostered seven children in her home at the time. I haven’t seen her since I left Houston over three years ago but I still have her phone number and I’d like to be able to thank her someday for the compassion she extended to me when everyone else just said “I’m praying for you” and walked away.
No, I don’t want to attend any more churches or be around any more church folks who are all talk and no action. I don’t want one more person telling me they are a “Christian” when their actions scream that they are no more concerned with my plight than Atilla the Hun. Fake “Christianity” is everywhere in America, and it’s because it is centered on “self” and what we can get from it. And plenty of pastors preach to that end, too (e.g., how we can “get more” from God and never addressing the issue of what we should be giving back–and not just with money, either).
We need to get back to real, authentic Christianity in this country. Does anybody even know what that looks like anymore? “Americanized Christianity” is just another product of the culture to sell to the masses–after all, it is a billion-dollar business in America. Just think about the implications of that statement, folks.
We need to get back to the basics (Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a good place to start):
. . . blessed are the poor in spirit
. . . blessed are those who mourn
. . . blessed are the meek
. . . blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness
. . . blessed are the merciful
. . . blessed are the pure in heart
. . . blessed are the peacemakers
. . . blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake . . .
Does any of that sound familiar, folks?
YouTube Video: “Long Train Runnin'” (1973) by the Doobie Brothers: