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Compassion

Richard W. O'Ffill

There is, to some important degree, an identity crisis in the hearts of many in our church these days. We used to have a clear sense of mission and purpose. We actually believed that the message that God gave this church was not an option, but actually a matter of life and death to both Christians of other communions and non-Christians alike.

Part of our unique message has been our preaching of last day events. We taught that there would be an ecumenical movement or a union of churches, and this union would then be utilized by the great deceiver in precipitating the last great deception.

Did you ever consider that we ourselves might conceivably be caught up in this great ecumenical emphasis? I never thought so. But I am beginning to get nervous.

I believe we tended to see the ecumenical movement as a union or merging of organizations--that one denomination would join another. And, indeed, some have. That there would be essentially a physical union of denominations was our idea.

It seems highly unlikely that this will happen. What seems to be the essence of the ecumenical movement would be that it would be a union of ideas and concepts--if you please, an agreement over the issues.

If the union of churches is an ideological union rather than an organized union, I could see some of us getting caught up in it.

Let me show you how this might happen. It starts by us saying that God's people are not only the members of our church, which is true. Next we say that many people of other denominations are better Christians than we are, which is true.

In the meantime, like anybody in their right mind, we try to show the other denominations that we are as Christian as they are. In fact, to prove it, we begin to call ourselves Seventh-day Adventist Christians--just to prove we are part of the family. Of course, numerically we are a fraction of the rest, so we didn't get to draw up the rules.

First-day churches, which teach eternal torment, eternal security, the doctrines of the rapture, the immortality of the soul to name a few, have drawn up the guidelines as to who are insiders and who are outsiders. Of course, nobody in his right mind wants to be an outsider, especially when the rulebook says that everyone who is not one of the mainstreams is a cult. So we are in recent years trying to bridge the gap or to gloss over the differences so we would not be branded a cult.

We used to threaten them with the Mark of the Beast. Now they threaten us with the "Mark of the Cult." Brothers and sisters, don't forget, though man may stamp you with the mark of a cult, it is God who ultimately decides who is what. What I am saying is, man has set up his own criteria for who is a cult and who isn't, and we need not be afraid of what man can do to us. What we need to fear is what God can do to us. And for this reason the last message is not "fear man and give glory to him," but "fear God and give glory to Him for the hour of His judgment is come."

We are on the defensive. We are in certain quarters bobbing, weaving, and back-pedaling. Friends, we have nothing to lose by being called names. We still have the message, and I might say, the only message that will prepare this generation to meet the great deception and meet a Holy God. It is time that we stopped worrying about our image and how others perceive us, and begin to be as were the apostles--filled with the boldness of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel that is being preached in the first-day churches is riddled with error, and will not bear the weight of testing in the time of final events. I am not condemning anybody, you know, but a person who doesn't know right from wrong or truth from error in the 21st century is in big trouble.

The gospel as preached by the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the real truth for this time. Our message does not differ from the other churches in the details but in the fundamentals.

It is not just a matter of which day is the Sabbath. The basic issue is what happens to a person when they get saved. The real debate is not around salvation by faith versus salvation by works, but how does salvation work and what are the works of righteousness.

The great danger is that we step down. The great danger is that we step back from the task that God has called upon us to do. We can safely say that there are wonderful Christians out there who have salvation in Christ, but make no mistake, we must never lose sight of the fact that God is calling them to come out lest they become deceived and lose their salvation.

The Seventh-day Adventist church, in case you forget, has a life and death message for the world in the 21st century. This message is not an option--it is a must. It is not a message of condemnation, but of salvation. In the final hours of this earth's history, all of God's true children in every denomination will accept this message.

So let's stop worrying about ourselves and start worrying about the lost. Though others may think otherwise, the Seventh-day Adventist church is not a sheep-stealing church, but a sheep-saving church!

Remember, the largest Christian church in the world is a true cult, but nobody dares to call them that. You are going to find our church being called a cult these days, and even more so in the future. Being called a member of a cult doesn't make a person one. Remember, it is human nature that, when we can't answer a person, we tend to start calling them names.

Just in case you wonder where we are headed, check the words of Jesus. He said before it is over His true followers would be hated by all nations for His name's sake. But this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.

The majority of those who decide to leave the fellowship before this is over will be those who simply couldn't put up with, as we might say, all the negative P.R.

Please forgive the prologue to the sermon. I don't mean to sound like a prophet of doom. But it is time now that we fastened our spiritual seat belts, that we close our tray tables, and that we put our chairs in their original upright position. Our redemption is nearer than when we first believed.

I have been presenting this series which is entitled, "Back to Basics." These sermons are based on the premise that language tends to reflect current culture and lifestyle and, we might say, correct political thinking.

As darkness continues to cover the earth and gross darkness the people, the words that were traditionally used to reflect light and truth will begin to take on new shades of meaning. In spiritual matters we used to speak of light and darkness. The Bible, by the way, speaks of nothing else. Now, however, gray is in, even in speaking of faith and morals.

I am calling your attention to words that I feel are especially at risk of being misrepresented and misunderstood. The continued decline of lifestyle and morals are giving a potentially deadly taint to words that were originally meant to convey truth and purity. In this sermon I want us to think about "compassion."

We should be careful when we address one extreme point of view to also address the other extreme. Because we generally fail to do this, we have tended to go from one extreme to another.

There are two sides to every coin. We should always look at both sides of a particular issue. I have said it before and I will say it again, that fanaticism is often emphasizing one truth at the expense of other truths.

In matters of faith and morals it is important that we get the whole picture. Not so that we will compromise on the principles or compromise with evil, but so that we will have a balanced view.

We say often that God hates sin but loves sinners, and that this should be our position. For us this is easier said than done. This is so for two reasons: One, because our natural instinct is to love sin. And two, we are prone to dislike anyone who disagrees with our point of view. So in the matter of hating sin and loving sinners, we are more likely to be doing one and not the other.

Let me explain. The people who hate sin tend to hate sinners, and the people who love sinners are often soft on sin. It may sound strange, but I believe in the 21st century sin is actually advancing under the protection of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

But it has always been this way. The devil has always used the compassion and mercy of God as shields to advance his cause. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United States and similar provisions in other countries were never intended to be vehicles to protect and promote evil. But on the contrary, they were to protect truth and righteousness in the society. In the 21st century the great principles of righteousness are being raped by the evil forces in society.

As evil continues to gain ground in fulfillment of scripture, which says that darkness would cover the earth and gross darkness the people--instead of reacting like scripture has told us to react, when it says that when the devil comes in like a flood, the Lord will raise up a standard against him--the hue and cry that is going out from many pulpits in this nation is a call for compassion. I believe that if we do not put compassion in the context of its true meaning, this call to compassion in the Christian community may, in fact, facilitate the spread of evil and the corruption of society.

It is interesting to study history in this respect. In other times of moral darkness the prophets and preachers who brought revival and reformation were not preaching compassion. In fact, these messengers were often interpreted by the majority of their listeners as being closed-minded and bigoted. You see, in times like these we must be careful of putting out conflicting signals.

I believe that if we had only one message to preach today that would apply to the majority of listeners, the message should not be about compassion, but around the issue of shall we be in favor of institutionalizing sin in our own lives and in our society.

Many of us in our churches don't feel comfortable about talking about the problems of society. We are saying that we should not try to legislate morality. This really confuses me, because civilized societies have always legislated morals in respect to a person's relationship to others and to the society.

I guess that many of us are sensitive about religious liberty issues. We, of course, do not believe that the laws of the land should in any case interfere with a person's relationship with God, but we seem to have somehow forgotten that the last six commandments are social issues.

If God had created only one person on this planet and left them there to live happily ever after, that person wouldn't have needed the last six commandments. The last six commandments are divinely given social legislation, and a society cannot remain viable for long without them. But you may say, "We are the church; we are not the society." Please think again. The church is not only a part of society, it is in itself a micro-society.

Wherever you have more than one person you have society. A husband and wife form the basis of a society. To be a church doesn't remove us from society or make us exempt from being members of society. In fact, the church itself is probably one of the most intense examples of community.

So then, when we preach that we should not legislate the last six commandments in secular society, this mind-set is immediately reflected in the morals and standards of the church society. In fact, we are presently practically at a standoff in regards to the matter of standards in the church.

For some strange reason I cannot figure out, standards are somehow seen by many these days as being in conflict with the true spirit of the gospel. As if a person cannot believe in standards and be truly compassionate. The problem may have been the result of the approach and reaction, which we have traditionally taken in regards to standards.

A person who has been a member of the church for about 50 years was talking with me recently. He wasn't talking through clenched teeth, but with tears in his eyes, as he related how he felt the standards of the church had gone down through the years.

He told me how in earlier days young women were expelled from school for having short haircuts--they called it bobbing their hair. In my generation I remember young men getting expelled for having long hair.

Listen, I don't believe in reality anyone has ever been expelled from any school for having long or short hair, or even for drinking or smoking. Young people were and are expelled or disciplined for disobedience, for breaking the standards or the rules that they agreed to keep when they entered school.

The reason we get a traffic ticket is not because there is an evil speed, but because we are disobeying the traffic laws. We used to get tickets at 65--now it's 75. You see, it is not a number, it is a principle. And the principle that we face in our relationship with God, to each other, and to the society is: Will we or will we not be obedient?

Here is where the rub comes in. Scripture says that in the last days perilous times would come. People would be lovers of themselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemous, disobedient to parents, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. This text, by the way, does not just refer to the bad guys, but to some who will profess to be good guys.

Now, you tell me. How in the world can you put together a set of standards of conduct, be they in the secular society or in the church, without stepping on the toes of someone in this list? The fact is that the current attitude of self-love and disobedience defies the implementation of any set of standards in the church or society at large.

These days disobedience reigns under the tent of human rights, and when criticized, hides behind the wall of compassion. A society or church that has no standards of conduct is not a compassionate society any more than a parent who indulges a child's every whim is a loving parent in the Biblical sense of the word.

Compassion that compromises evil or compassion that is tolerant of evil is, in fact, not compassion at all. There is a growing misunderstanding and abuse of this word, which is facilitating the spread of evil.

It is time that we take up the cause, not against sinners but definitely against sin. Evil has turned the tables on righteousness. Evil has effectively put a guilt trip on righteousness, when the whole purpose of the gospel is to call sinners to repentance. Yes, it is true that the righteous must have a Godlike attitude toward sinners. But we should make no mistake. Sinners must ultimately, if they are to be saved, have a God-like attitude toward sin or they will simply perish in their sins.

Someone has said that the church is not a rest home for saints but a hospital for sinners. I misunderstood this at first, because it sounded to me like if you wanted to sin then go to church.

But the key word here is neither "saint" nor "sinner," but "hospital." A hospital is for sick people, not for well people. A hospital is not a place where well people go to get sick, but where sick people go to get well!

If a person likes to be sick and really doesn't want to get well, then they shouldn't waste the time and money to go to the hospital.

In the same way, if a person enjoys selfishness, pride, anger, lust, and the like, they shouldn't bother coming to church, because the church is where we come to be healed and set free from sins that are ruining the quality of our lives and the lives of others.

Do you know what a crawdad is? I think its real name is crayfish. I was raised in Kentucky and Tennessee, and when we were boys we used to find crawdads in the creeks; they hid under stones and rocks. We would turn over a stone and there would be the crawdad. I was always a little scared of them, because they have pinchers like lobsters.

One day in biology class our teacher showed us the little part of the crawdad that controls its sense of balance that keeps it right side up. I remember she took a little piece of a matchstick and put it in that balance spot on the crayfish and immediately the thing flipped over on its back.

That little piece of match was messing up the crawdad's ability to know which side was up!

Boy, has the devil been doing a number on us in the 21st century. We, too, have almost lost the ability to know which side is up in respect to faith and morals. The Bible predicted that it would be this way. It says that the final deception would be so well crafted that it would deceive the very elect.

So we have come to a time when the majority thinks that up is down and down is up. The society has misconstrued compassion to the place where it calls evil good and good evil. The sure Word of God is being turned on its head, and all hell is breaking loose, if you please, a thousand years ahead of schedule.

I used to not understand when they told us that, unless we were into the Word of God in the last days, we wouldn't make it. I couldn't see how, because I knew and understood and accepted the 27 basic beliefs. But I know now what they meant. The issues are subtle. What you see is not necessarily what you get. The devil has done a bait and switch on us. He advertises compassion and human rights, and gives us perversion and moral anarchy.

Down here in Florida the roofs of houses rarely last for the 20-year warranty on the shingles. Due to the extreme heat of summer and the abundant rain and humidity, the roof is often old in ten or twelve years.

Often, when we put a new roof on our homes and the old shingles are being removed, they discover that water has somehow been getting under the shingles, and although it hasn't yet gotten into the house, there is already rotten wood. In these last days the devil's lies have filtered in slowly but surely, and there is now clear evidence of social and spiritual rot.

The devil has been playing on words and he has nearly been successful, as scripture says, in turning the truth of God into a lie, because many refuse to believe and accept the truth as it is in Jesus. Scripture says God will give them over to a grand delusion that they might believe a lie and be damned.

Among those of us who are here, some of us call ourselves liberals and some conservatives. Which ought the child of God be in the 21st century? The answer may be neither or, maybe in some ways, we ought to be both. In fact, we should definitely be as compassionate towards sinners as are many liberals, but we should be as opposed to sin as are the conservatives.

Did you know that in His day here on earth, the liberals thought Jesus was conservative and the conservatives thought He was liberal? The liberals and the conservatives in Jesus day disagreed about everything but about Jesus, and they agreed that He had to go.

And so God's true people in the last days will come to be seen as antisocial and unacceptable by both extreme positions, and finally the religious right and the secular humanist will agree that these people do not fit into the New World Order.

God's people in the 21st century will be the most truly compassionate generation ever. But they will not, in regards to the prevailing sins of the society, be accomplices after the fact. We must resist the sin and evils in our own lives and in society in the same manner that a surgeon will seek to remove a malignant tumor yet not leave the patient paralyzed.

How could it be clearer? Jesus came to destroy sin and to save sinners. In the 21st century this is a delicate balancing act, but through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Christ we can have the same mind. We can, we must, and to His glory, we will!

Conclusion

The call for compassion in the 21st century can very well be the smoke screen behind which the forces of evil make a grab to neutralize and disarm the forces of righteousness. I mentioned something not long ago about my concern that society ought not legitimize what God has declared is illegitimate and accept what God has cursed, namely the practice of sodomy. After the service a person expressed that I didn't sound compassionate. Compassion is being used in some quarters like a club to beat down the voices that would call for morality and protection of family values. The person who said I didn't sound compassionate asked me if I had homophobia. I said, yes, I do. I also have murder-phobia, thief-phobia and adultery-phobia.

Compassion was never meant to be an emotion that would stand by and watch a person suffer, be it physically or with a spiritually fatal malady. Compassion was to be the emotion which doesn't watch a neighbor's house burn, but fights to put it out. Compassion doesn't watch a person starving to death, but feeds him. Compassion is based on a wisdom that knows right from wrong. A person who can't tell the way things were meant to be can never be compassionate in any sense of the word.

A kind of pseudo-compassion may well be driven by the conscious or subconscious desire to cover or rationalize our own sins.

It bears repeating that a person's theology tends to reflect our personal morality. If we are knowingly protecting any sin in our own personal lives, we run the risk of soon not being able to tell the difference between right and wrong, and lose the ability to separate the principles of good and evil.

To protect against this happening in our lives and in order to have compassion in the true sense of the word, we must always be in an attitude of genuine repentance and hatred for sin in our own lives. This will lead us to seek and find forgiveness and healing from God. As we experience forgiveness and healing, we will then have a testimony of hope and victory for others.

Compassion is, after all, not the emotion that closes its eyes to sin. But it is the attitude of Christ, who when He saw the multitude, had compassion on them. Compassion is the attitude that calls sinners to repent, to accept the forgiveness of God, and to leave off sinning.

A person who doesn't understand that cancer is fatal cannot have true compassion for its victims. A person who does not appreciate the suffering and despair that comes from poverty cannot have compassion for the poor. A person who does not accept that the wages of sin is eternal death cannot have true compassion for the sinner.

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