Not Quite Compassion (Pt. 1 of 3)

I’ve been with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission for nearly two years and I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of compassion. It’s been a journey with numerous stops along the way. Each time I stopped, I thought I had arrived, only to realize the compassion road had barely begun.

Treating-Smashed-Fingers-e1444577788902My boys and I were in a rush to get out of the house for school. (as always) I was busy throwing their bags and coats in the trunk. Linc had already climbed in and was fumbling with his seatbelt. Sawyer was climbing in as I heard him slam the door closed. Suddenly, he screamed out in pain. He had shut the car door on his fingers.

I calmly walked over to his side of the car to see him yelling in agony. Immediately, I felt grateful. I looked at my hands and was so glad my fingers weren’t caught in the door. All ten of my fingers were free to move. I kept watching him screaming and felt so thankful I wasn’t experiencing that pain (and possibly never will) I took a moment to pray to God, thanking Him I was blessed with ten working fingers. All the while, Sawyer continued to scream for help.(1)


I used to organize youth group mission trips to Mexico. We’d go down with about 30 people to build houses in the Tijuana area. We’d sleep in a campsite just out of town that was guarded and had running water, then drive into town every morning. We’d build a one room house with wood and stucco. We’d take a picture with the family of us handing them the keys to their new front door. We’d pray for them and then we’d go back home (Usually stopping at In ‘N Out)

The whole way home, I’d hear many stories of kids being thankful for their big house back home. How glad they had hair gel, or air conditioning, or Netflix. I’d even get emails from parents thanking me for the change they saw in their child. Their son or daughter were less entitled or selfish. Some were even thinking about sending money to Mexico someday.

The memories of the trip quickly faded. Most of the kids went back to their typical consumeristic ways. They kept a picture of 30 white Americans standing in front of the finished house never to think of the family in that home again. It was poverty tourism. It was comparison.

Now, please listen.
I’m not saying this trip was bad and we were all horrible Christians for going down there to build a house. I’m just saying, it wasn’t quite compassion.

Compassion (as we all know) looks more like what really happened when Sawyer slammed his fingers in the car door.

I sprinted over to his side of the car, ripped the door open, freed his hand, and then scooped him up, and held him as he cried. We sat there in the driveway and I could care less we were going to be late for school. My only thought was taking care of my hurting boy. We rushed back in the house. I got some ice and a towel for him. I held him as I gently placed the ice on his finger. I kissed his fingers. I cried with him. We sat together for as long as it took for him to calm down. Then we made sure his fingers weren’t broken as he carefully wiggled them.

That’s closer to compassion. Compassion requires action and empathy. It usually inconveniences us. Compassion is always deeply relational and transformational.

Do you experience comparison or compassion when you…
Walk by one of your houseless neighbors?
Watch the single mother shuffle onto the bus with her two kids?
Read about 1,000 women who will be bought and sold in our city tonight?

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!”   -Mark 1:41

It’s natural to compare. It’s good to feel thankful. It’s nice to give money. But this is not quite compassion. God invites us to journey onward.

Stick with me, there are more stops on compassion road.


  1. Blatantly stole this illustration from our president at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, Jeff Lilley. I’m so thankful for his challenging leadership in my life.

Jesus the Drug Dealer or Doctor (part 2 of 2)

503630042I got to sit next to George for dinner. He and I and a few others were invited to a multi-faith discourse which is a fancy way of saying we sat around and talked about our personal spirituality. Now we were sitting at Lost Lake Cafe enjoying a fruity IPA with a shot of gin thrown in. George is a grey haired, slim, brilliant, Zen Buddhist.

The first thing that struck me about George was how peaceful he was. It was more than the gin too. He was unthreatened and patient with me as I pestered him with questions. He had no desire to convert me but only to refresh, enrich, and bless.

As dinner arrived, the topic settled on meditation and prayer and it got me thinking how this illuminates the whole drug dealer and doctor.

My prayers had become too transactional. I was so concerned with what happened, I never took the time to ask why. If I really want God to transform me then I can’t just direct my attention upward. I need to look inward as well.

Meditation has started to do this for me. As my mind quiets, it clarifies. Since I had turned forgiveness into something so trivial like swallowing a pill, meditation is helping me chew. I’ve been forcing myself to taste the bitterness and foulness of my bursts of anger or binges. I’m refusing to skip over the scary and difficult inward work God has patiently been waiting for all these years.

I’m finally starting to let him in. Not just into the living room after I vacuum or the kitchen after I do the dishes. I’m letting him into my bedroom with the socks on the ground. I’m letting him into my dirty garage and my messy closet. I’m letting him into my life late at night and when I think I’m just talking to thin air and when I’m insecure and wish I was a better friend to Phil and after I yell at my kids and when I am only pretending to care about people and when I try to impress people and when I’m lonely.

But instead of quickly moving past it and turning the radio back up.
Now, I’m sitting in it.
With him.

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life. -Psalm 139:23-24

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the embrace of what I’m hiding. I think that’s why I liked George so much. He wasn’t hiding. I’ve discovered sin isn’t the problem, it’s my attempt at solving the problem.

Sin’s power over us was destroyed by a poor carpenter two thousand years ago on a lonely hill. He announced this when he breathed his last words, “It is finished.” (1) Those words are more than Jesus being happy he finished his mission. Jesus did not merely pay the penalty for our sin, but he destroyed the entire economic system of sacrifice, coverings, and sin removal.

The transactions are no longer necessary.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

-John 8:36

We are like recovering addicts to a previous system. Once, our drug captured every minute and thought of our lives. Now, we are free to think and experience so much more. We can finally come out of hiding and be healed.


So lets stop hiding.
Be still and let him bring up what you keep repressing.
Don’t run from it. (sin)
Don’t try to cover it. (sacrifice)
Don’t even pray about it.
If the gospel is anything, it’s that we don’t have to do anything. We can just be still and allow the great physician to do what he does best.

“Child, I’d like to talk about…”
And then let him.
It’ll be ok.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

-Matt. 9:12,13 (The words of the doctor)


  1. John 19:30


Jesus the Drug Dealer or Doctor (pt. 1 of 2)

drug_dealerThe other day I was driving home from work and I casually asked God to forgive me for the sarcastic attitude I had that day. I had made fun of a few people and was kind of rude. I had turned down the music for a moment while I prayed and then I turned it back up after I said amen.

And the whole thing felt phony.

As I turned the music up and continued on with my evening, I could imagine God sitting there hoping the conversation would continue. Hoping we could talk about why I was so sarcastic. Patiently waiting for his turn to talk. Hoping I’d pause just long enough for something more than sin.

It was a cold transaction. God had become a drug dealer dispensing just enough forgiveness to appease my conscience.

I can’t help but wonder if moments like these are how Christians become so Biblically knowledgeable and yet lack compassion. Saved but inwardly shallow. Holy and so harmful. Is that what years of transactions without any inward transformation produces?

The Doctor
Jesus walked by ten lepers once who asked him for mercy. The Bible says they stood at a distance shouting to him as he walked by. He healed all ten as they walked away but only one came back to praise him. I used to think this story was about minding your manners and making sure to say “Thank you” when someone passes the salt. However, I noticed today when the one leper came back, Jesus says to him, ““Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (1)

I thought he was already well? Did he need to be healed twice or something? What did he receive that the others didnt?

I believe it’s what you and I are missing when we treat God like a drug dealer.

He forgives that burst of anger.
The night of binging on porn or food or alcohol.
The time you became threatened by someone’s different view of God.

We may know how to share with him what happened.
But he’d like to talk about why.

See, the drug dealer temporarily removes my sin, but the doctor could heal my shame. And I’m scared to death of that. Just like those nine other lepers, I’d rather keep just close enough to be outwardly healed so I can move on.

I don’t want to talk about why I was sarcastic and rude. I want to avoid conversations about my insecurities. I don’t want God to get close enough to know how sometimes I feel old and have very little to offer at my job. Or why I try to act so smart to compensate for making less money than all my friends. Or how I’m so good at getting people to like me and I am absolutely terrible at meaningful friendships. Or maybe the whole reason I’m a pastor is to stay in control because as long as you are ministering to people they don’t have to actually know you.

Shit got real, huh.

I think that’s why only one leper came back. He was willing to meet the doctor. He knew he needed to be healed of more than his leprosy.

And we know that too, don’t we.

Tomorrow, I’m gonna share with you one way I’m discovering the doctor in my life. I stole it from a Buddhist friend of mine. See ya then.


  1. Luke 17:11-19