"Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man whom You discipline and instruct, O Lord, and teach out of Your law" Psalm 94:12
"For the Lord corrects and disciplines everyone whom He loves, and He punishes, even scourges, every son whom He accepts and welcomes to His heart and cherishes." Hebrews 12:6
I open this writing with these scriptures because I have recently been corrected in my thinking by the Lord, even disciplined. When we think of discipline we always think of the unpleasant but we forget the picture painted in Psalms 23 of our Father as the Shepherd equipped with the rod and staff. These instruments "comfort" the psalmist. A shepherd used these to guide, herd, and generate necessary course corrections for the safety and well-being of the sheep. So it is with discipline and instruction. They are necessary for course correction in our hearts and thinking for our benefit and well being because our Father loves us that much. Very recently I underwent course correction in my thinking regarding loving others and compassionate outreach.
God has been working in my heart for some time to engage me in the needs of others, to bring me to a place where I can be utilized to effectively minister to people. This has entailed prayer for an increased capacity to love others, for compassion, for boldness, for wisdom, and for tremendous growth. To look back at where I was in my heart and attitudes and see where God has moved me from and where He is moving me towards is exciting. One of the more exciting and serious aspects is that I know I am called to minister on an international level through short term missions work. By this I mean that God has spoken into my heart some very specific works that He wants me to participate in, works that will require travel to foreign nations, ministering to orphans, widows, and impoverished peoples in HIV ravaged countries, bringing the Word, supplies, and hope to what can only be described as an indescribably desperate scenario where death walks nearly unchecked and superstition, misinformation, and demonic stronghold have nearly choked out the concept of the "family unit" as very many parents are dead or dying of AIDS.
My spirit has gripped James 1:27 which states that "Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress...". My heart resonates with the call in Isaiah 6:8 which says "Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” In fact, my passion for these causes have grown so strong that I had begun to ignore some basic truths that God needed to remind me of, truths that are worthy of all to be continually in rememberance of.
In Luke 10:25-37 we read the familiar passage of the Good Samaritan. Key to this passage is a question that should continually be in all of our minds and hearts; one that we forget and too often ignore. Who is our neighbor? The whole point of that parable was to teach us that our neighbor is anyone around us in need. Around us - daily they are all around us. Jesus told this very direct parable to a group of men who knew how to give generously. They knew how to give in full view of others to causes that were popular, were on the rise, were gaining attention and notoriety. But their giving wasn't "giving" at all. It was purchase. With their very public giving, they purchased for themselves respect, they purchased admiration, they purchased admittance to the community leadership clubs. But what would have struck them about this story was the fact that a social outcast by their societal standards was demonstrated to have behaved in a more loving and compassionate manner than any of the "acceptable" and "respected" members of their culture to meet the need of a complete stranger who came upon their path as they went about their day to day business.
Further, he didn't make a big deal of it. There was no fanfare, no pageantry. There was the injured and there was the innkeeper and these were the witnesses. The one in need and the one with the physical goods to supply those needs and the Samaritan put the two of them together with compassion. Nothing else was required. The Samaritan didn't run back to his home church, take up a collection, start a food drive, or even seek to put together a team of physicians for a "those-who-are-waylaid-while-traveling" ministry. He was in the present, in the now, the hands of God to the person in his path.
Now it should not be thought that missions teams, food drives, and the raising of funds is outside of God's will. In fact these are the very means by which the greatest of needs can be met. But how many of us rely soley on these methods to reach a dying, hurting, and hell-bound world. A mission team won't help the local widow. A food drive won't help the co-worker struggling with depression. The only common denominator of assistance in both of those scenarios is us, the compassionate Christian individual. One of the mindsets that God so gently and graciously steered me out of was the notion that I could not fully experience compassionate living until I had touched the problem of the needy, set my feet on foreign soil and touched skin tones different than my own, listening to tongues I didn't understand. Then I would know the fullness of compassion. But that is putting a condition on love. If you live 6,000 miles away my heart is open to you. What about if you live 6 miles away? God's love is unconditional and the single mom hurts just as the orphan just as the addict just as the widow just as...
In Mark 16:15 we are told to go into the whole world and preach the gospel - literally to share the good news of life and redemption. But how many of us immediately mentally leap to far off lands? The "whole world" - it starts at your front door. It is between your driveway and work. It is at your desk, by your locker, at your work station, next to your kid's sports practice, just outside your church, in the restaurant, at the school and everywhere in between. Should we support international missions work? Absolutely! Beyond that, even pray about whether God would have you go! But in the doing so, do not forget that you have a continual field of work around you every single day. "The least of these" - the broken, the hungry, the abandoned, the abused - they are all around us here just as they are in other nations.
The thing God has been so kind and so good to disciple me in is that it does not have to be one or the other, but it SHOULD be both that move our hearts to compassionate action. We simply have to have the courage to pray "Lord send me" into the mission fields of our own lives.