Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dangerous Compassion

I had a great experience this Christmas and wanted to share it with you. It doesn’t have much to do with Greek, so I wouldn’t even try to make some sort of artificial connection.

With our move to Washougal, Washington, most of our Christmas traditions had to change since in the past they involved family. And with two of my three kids in college, the new traditions were even more important to them than to me. My wife and I have discovered that it is the stability of family traditions that help our kids go out and conquer the world; no matter what happens, they can always come home again to what is familiar and safe.

So we told each kid that they could establish one new tradition, so we went bowling and played games. But Tyler wanted to to serve a Christmas meal at a homeless shelter. We have never done this as a family, so my wife Robin made some calls and we headed to The Lord’s Gym the night of the 23rd. This is a food bank that operates in conjunction with an inner-city church in Vancouver.

There we stood, five tall very white people holding serving spoons and staring at life situations decidedly different from our own. First lesson: you don’t have to go overseas to serve in short terms missions. The same type of diversity exists in our back yards. I remember thinking that as a church we shouldn’t allow anyone go on an overseas mission until they had worked at a local mission. Probably a good idea.

My job was to give out the salads, and was instructed very clearly to ask the people if they wanted crushed walnuts before putting them on their salads. I thought, “That’s nice; they are concerned about nut allergies.” Not really. I finally learned to look at the person first and make sure they had teeth that could chew the walnuts before I asked them. Second lesson: things we take for granted (I have all my teeth) shouldn’t be.

Robin was next to me handing out the desserts. For a long time I could hear her say, “What would you like?” But after 15 minutes she shifted to saying, “What dessert would you like?” During a break I asked her why she changed what she was saying, and she responded, “I am tired of people answering, ‘You.’” One guy came through the line four times; and as we were laughing with him about it, he said that he kept coming through in order to see Robin. Then he looked at me and asked if I were her husband. In a deep masculine voice (at least, as masculine as a tenor can be), I said yes, and then watched the verbal gymnastics as he tried to say he was admiring my wife “as a sister in the Lord.” Yeh. Right.

But here is where the compassion comes in. We are looking for a church in our new home. One has good preaching with a worship pastor who sings the same refrain 50 times (I exaggerate not), and another has great community but little to commend the proclamation of the gospel. I asked Robin how she would feel about choosing a church not based on meeting our needs but based on our ability to meet its needs, like The Lord’s Gym. She is open to it, as long as men don’t keep trying to pick her up.

Perhaps the greatest lesson is this. Perhaps the food bank will meet our needs better than a largely white church with good preaching and singing and an encouraging youth group. Perhaps we have heard all the good preaching (based, of course, on the Greek text) and singing we need for some time. Perhaps it is time for us to start learning the really important lessons of the Christian walk, that at the throne Jesus will ask us if we cared for his disenfranchised children. At least, that's what the text says in both Greek and English.

To do so will take dangerous compassion. Or perhaps it will just take a commitment to love the things that the Lord loves, and have our hearts broken by the things that break his heart.

Wherever we end up, the night of the 23rd will have taught us more than any preacher has.