Characteristics of Christ | COMPASSION

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 24: Compassion (Matthew 9:36)

When was the last time you felt compassion for someone? I would venture to guess it’s not a feeling we experience very often. Maybe we should bring it back.

The word literally means “to suffer with/together” (com = with/together; passion = suffering). It’s closely related to pity, sympathy, or empathy. But it’s more than just pity.

Our word for compassion is translated from a really fun Greek word. Are you ready? It’s “splagchnizomai.” That’s the verb form, i.e. “to have pity/sympathy/compassion for.” The noun is “splagchnon.” This is the really interesting one because it literally means “intestines/entrails” – the inward parts of one’s body.

Have you ever been so emotionally moved you feel it in your gut? Have you ever had a sinking feeling in your stomach when you see injustice, poverty, or broken relationships? Have you ever felt love so deeply from someone that you feel a fire in your chest or butterflies in your stomach?

That’s the idea.

We’re told “The LORD is a gracious and compassionate God.” Jesus embodied that in his ministry. He felt compassion for the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He felt love for the rich young ruler because he knows what it’s like to give up everything. We’re told several times he was “moved with compassion.” Jesus felt these emotions deeply within himself.

But those deep feelings always moved him to action. We cannot truly experience compassion without acting on it. John says this very thing in 1 John 3:16-18. If we see someone in need, we shouldn’t withhold compassion (lit. close off our splangchnon). Love shouldn’t just be in words or speech, but in action.

God is gracious and compassionate. Jesus was moved with compassion. What stirs up feelings of compassion within you? How can you act on those feelings today or this week?

Characteristics of Christ | FRUIT-BEARING

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 24: Fruit-Bearing (John 15:5)

We’ve already seen how Jesus exemplified all the “Fruit of the Spirit” that Paul mentions in Galatians 5. But the idea of bearing fruit goes further than that.

How do we know if someone is a good person or not? How do we discern whether or not to trust them? or to confide in them? or if they would make a good leader? or a good spouse?

We look at the fruit of their lives.

This isn’t the same as being judgmental. Just a few sentences after telling us not to judge others, Jesus warns us about certain types of people to avoid – “You will know them by their fruit,” he says. This isn’t judging. It’s observing.

There are some people who bear the fruit of broken relationships in their lives. Some bear the fruit of burnt bridges, traumatic conflicts, or a line of bodies they’ve thrown under the bus.

But they aren’t able to see their own fruit. They can’t confidently say, “It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem, it’s me.”

The fruit Jesus bears is a 2000 year legacy of world-change. During his ministry he left healing and transformation in his wake. He welcomed the outcast, fed the hungry, preached to the poor, healed the sick, and spoke truth to power.

Now he calls his followers to do the same. He’s the Vine, we’re the branches. If we remain in him we’ll bear all this good fruit in our lives, too.

Take a moment and reflect on the fruit of your life. Or on the fruit of your church. Or your marriage. Or your business. What kind of fruit (if any) are you bearing? How do people see you and recognize you as a follower of Christ?

Characteristics of Christ | GIVING

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 23: Giving (Matthew 6:3-4)

What’s the point in having all this stuff? What good is money anyway? Everything you own will ultimately end up in a landfill one day. So focus on what really matters.

That’s pretty much a summary of Ecclesiastes.

Our God is a giving and gracious God. The Father loves to bless his children with good gifts. BUT (and this is a huge but!) there is a caveat. It all comes back to his initial covenant with Abram in Genesis 12. God tells Abram, “I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others…All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

Did you catch that? God would bless Abram so that he could then be a blessing to others. Why would he expect any less from us? God never blesses us with anything – wealth, possessions, talents, abilities, etc. – without expecting us to use those blessings to bless others. God doesn’t give us “every good and perfect gift” just for us to hoard it all.

Jesus was as straightforward as he could be with the parable of “The Rich Fool.” This guy had an amazing harvest, so much that his barns couldn’t hold it all. So he decided to tear down his current barns and build bigger ones to hold all his stuff that he himself had earned. God called him a fool and demanded his life from him.

It’s a terrifying story.

Jesus talked a lot about money and possessions. We can’t serve God and wealth. Giving should become second nature (“don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” implies habitual patterns of behavior that don’t take conscious thought or effort anymore). He commended the poor widow for giving out of her poverty rather than those who gave out of their surplus. He said it’s better to give than to receive (which science has proven true!).

Jesus would ultimately model this kind of giving by laying down his own life for our sake. He never held onto possessions, never hoarded wealth, never turned away anyone in need. His giving was second nature.

May it be so with us. God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others.

Characteristics of Christ | PRAYERFUL

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 22: Prayerful (Mark 1:35)

The Gospel of Mark is fast-paced and action-packed. It’s just the sort of story telling to keep readers and listeners hooked. Jesus was busy, and one of Mark’s favorite words is “immediately.” There is a sense of urgency. Not that Jesus was rushed or hurried or stressed. But there was much to do and not much time to do it in.

The key, I think, to the balance Jesus maintains in his ministry comes down to prayer. In the first chapter of Mark and elsewhere throughout the gospels, we read about Jesus taking time to go off by himself to pray.

Prayer isn’t one important thing to do in a list of other important things to do. Prayer is the thing by which all other tasks get done. Without that personal connection with the Father, the Son could do nothing. Simply stated, Jesus couldn’t not pray.

Some people have understood this about themselves, too. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “I’m so busy now that if I did not spend three hours each day in prayer, I could not get through the day.”

Prayer permeated Jesus’ ministry. Not only did he find times to pray, but he taught about prayer and taught us how to pray. He modeled a prayerful life for his disciples, and he encouraged us to develop the same kind of relationship with the Father as he himself enjoyed.

Again, prayer isn’t just something we do. It’s the very thing through which everything else gets done. That’s why Paul could tell us to “pray without ceasing.”

Maybe some of us need to take a cue from the disciples and ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And then follow Jesus’ lead.

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Characteristics of Christ | DETERMINATION

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 20: Determination (Luke 9:51)

How many times have you been determined to do something only to have your plans completely derailed? Maybe you’re determined to get all the laundry done, or to finish that book on your nightstand, or to complete that project around the house, or to start a new diet. It probably happens more times than we’d like to admit.

We’re good at setting goals, but lousy at following through. Eventually life just ends up happening to us without much input for our end.

Not so with Jesus. In case there was any doubt what Jesus’ mission was, Luke sets the record straight. Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem.” There was no turning back. He knew why he came, what he was put on this earth to do, and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him. He was determined to make it to Jerusalem in order to surrender his life for all of us.

Kinda puts that pile of laundry in perspective, doesn’t it?

But that’s not the only thing he was determined to do. He had a lot to accomplish within about three short years. He had disciples to train, crowds to teach, sick to heal, lame to raise up, blind and deaf to restore, a Temple to cleanse, religious leaders to confront, and unconditional love to introduce to the world.

The Devils temptations couldn’t derail him. And when Peter tried to “rebuke” Jesus, saying he would never be killed by the authorities, Jesus called that out for what it was – a temptation from Satan. Jesus wasn’t going to let anyone or anything stand in the way of accomplishing God’s mission, whether it was his best friend or his worst enemy.

He also wasn’t going to let himself stand in the way, either. The night before he went to the cross, he cried out to God to figure out some other way if possible. “But,” Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.”

He could have called the whole thing off. “He could have called ten thousand angels” as the song goes. He could have come down off that cross and saved himself. But he was driven by the need to fulfill God’s will. He was determined to rescue the world through his own sacrifice.

Characteristics of Christ | HOLINESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 19: Holiness (John 17:17-19)

Do you have special plates that only get used on the rarest of occasions, maybe once or twice a year? Yeah, we do, too. There are just some moments when you want to use the special plates. They’re fancier, shinier, more decorative, and more easily broken. They are set aside in a cabinet to remain undisturbed until the next special occasion.

Or maybe you’ve had to get a very specialized tool for a project. It amazes me how many tools are out there that are made for one specific task. There’s an entire Subreddit devoted to Specialized Tools. It’s both crazy and genius what people come up with.

To be holy is to be set apart, or categorically different/other. God is holy, for there is no one or nothing like him. Jesus is holy because there was not and never will be anyone like him – the perfect Son of God, full of grace and truth.

The Jews had two categories for people and things – holy/sacred and common/profane. The Sabbath was a holy/sacred day. Monday was common. A priest was holy. A baker was common. The Temple was holy. A blacksmith shop was common. And that which was holy could easily be corrupted by something common or “unclean.” You can read all about that in Leviticus.

There was a process by which things could be made clean again, but almost never do you read about someone or something unclean being made holy by that which is holy. A white cloth may be stained, but a white cloth cannot remove stains from something else without becoming stained itself. Right?

But then Jesus comes along. He touches a man with leprosy and makes him whole and clean again. He is touched by a woman with a bleeding issue and heals her infirmity. He takes a dead girl by the hand and brings her to life.

Jesus is holy, but his holiness is not corrupted. His holiness spills out over all that is common/profane/unclean and makes everything it touches holy once again. That includes people. His disciples were a bunch of rough and tumble guys – fishermen, fighters, tax collectors, and more. These most common of dudes become completely uncommon, dare I say holy, by being with Jesus. His final prayer for them is that they may be sanctified (made holy/sacred) by God’s word.

Paul calls us “saints” – holy ones – and that is what we are if we have been washed in Jesus’ blood, made clean by the waters of baptism, and raised to a new, holy, sanctified life.

Characteristics of Christ | IMPARTIAL

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 18: Impartial (Matthew 7:1-2)

Money. Power. Fame. Success. Authority.

Jesus is unimpressed.

I would hate to be a celebrity. I remember growing up near Nashville it wasn’t uncommon to be in the same area or the same event as a country music singer. You could tell they were a celebrity because people were swarming them.

Celebrity sightings are kinda funny to me. I don’t know what I would do if I met one of my favorite musicians, authors, or athletes, but I’d probably freak out a little, too.

But Jesus wasn’t like that at all. He called King Herod a “fox.” He belittled Pilate’s authority, telling a Roman governor that he had no real power. When approached by a “rich, young ruler,” Jesus looked on him with compassion and pity but was otherwise unimpressed. The rich and powerful guys are almost always the baddies in his parables.

I’m amazed at Jesus’ ability to bounce between social circles like it’s nothing. He went to parties with “sinners and tax collectors” and also sat down to dinner with Pharisees. Whether they were the synagogue leader or an outcast woman, Jesus had time for people.

Jesus didn’t judge. In fact, we’re specifically told he didn’t come into this world to judge/condemn the world but to save it. If Jesus was impartial and nonjudgmental, we should be, too. He commands us not to judge others, because we’ll be judged by the same standards. He shows us what it looks like to treat all men and women as sons and daughters of God, as our own brothers and sisters, as people worthy of honor and respect.

Jesus was impressed by faith, generosity, hospitality, and love – not wealth and power and influence. May the same be said for us.

Characteristics of Christ | LEADER

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 17: Leader (John 13:12-15)

The model of leadership that best encapsulates Jesus is the model of a Shepherd. We don’t tend to have a lot of shepherds around here in the Midwestern United States. But here’s what we know.

Sheep are dumb. They are not cut out for survival on their own in the wild. Sheep need a flock, and the flock needs a shepherd. But sheep are really good at a couple of things: 1) Recognizing their shepherds voice, and 2) following. But the shepherd will often lead from behind, calling out commands to the flock as they walk along. The shepherd knows what his sheep need more than the sheep know what they need. A good shepherd will be with his sheep night and day, laying himself down in the entry way to the sheep pin so that no one wanders off and nothing gets in to cause harm.

We are God’s sheep (Psalm 100). And we are dumb. We need a community, and a community need a leader. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, leads us where we need to be, never forcing us to go. He watches over us so we don’t wander off. He protects, serves, and even lays his own life on the line for the sake of his people.

The greatest example of this is John 13, when he stoops down to wash his disciples’ filthy, crusty feet. But then he calls us to do the same. Maybe not literally, but to humble ourselves and become each others’ servants.

The term “servant leadership” is never mentioned in the Bible, but the assumption is that leaders are meant to serve. That’s the literal definition of a minister – someone who serves others. Jesus was never bossy or authoritarian. He never forced his will on anyone. While having literally all the authority in the world, he never “lorded it over” anyone. Jesus only ever leads us where he himself has already been. He only calls us to do what he has already done. His call is not “serve me” or “work for me.” It’s “follow me.”

And he is a leader worth following.

Characteristics of Christ | WISDOM

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 16: Wisdom (Matthew 7:24-25)

When we’re watching renovation shows on HGTV, everyone wants to skip right to the finishes – the paint color, the furniture, the light fixtures, the flooring – everything that makes a house feel like a home. But none of those things matter if the foundation is crumbling and the floor joists are rotting.

Home inspectors on TikTok are really unveiling the ugly truth of most flipped homes. Short cuts, shoddy craftsmanship, neglect for following codes, and even support and foundation issues. These houses may look bright and new and stylish on the outside, but their insides are crumbling.

That’s what it’s like, Jesus says, if you only listen to what he has to say without putting it into practice.

Strong houses start with the foundation. Strong lives are built from the ground up.

Jesus’ teachings fall well in line with Jewish Wisdom Tradition. The Sermon on the Mount is a masterclass in wisdom literature. It’s not just about knowing all the right things, its about putting that knowledge into practice to gain life experience.

I truly believe the way of Jesus is the best way to live my life, and yours. He is so full of wisdom into the human condition – our modus operandi, our idiosyncrasies, our cognitive distortions, our logical fallacies – that he knew precisely how to interact with any given person on any given day.

But it isn’t just what he says or even what he does. Wisdom is who he is. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. When he says, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” that’s wisdom language. When John describes Jesus as “The Word,” that’s wisdom language.

The earliest Christ-followers were known as The Way before they were known as the church or called Christians. They knew The Way of Jesus was the best way, the wise way, the way that leads to a strong foundation and a sturdy frame on which to build your life.

Characteristics of Christ | FORGIVENESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 15: Forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15)

Mercy and forgiveness go hand in hand. Here’s the difference: mercy is something you extend toward someone else. Forgiveness is what you do for your own sake.

Peter asked a question of Jesus. “How many times should I forgive my brother who sins against me. Seven times?” But Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” In other words, forgiveness is not a finite resource. And forgiveness has more to do with you than with the other person.

The actually Greek word for Forgiveness literally means “to release” or “to exhale.” It’s like finally letting out that deep breath you’ve been holding in. Withholding forgiveness is like holding your breath and hoping the other person will suffocate. Forgiveness means you are no longer holding onto that pain and hurt. You are absorbing it and moving on.

It doesn’t mean you “forget.” We can’t forget. We can’t pretend like it never happened. Sometimes we need to set strong boundaries and strict expectations after we’ve been wronged or harmed. That’s ok.

But Jesus is clear on the need to forgive. If we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us. It’s the same lesson from the story of the unmerciful servant.

As C.S. Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” It may take time. It may take a lot of work and effort. But we don’t have to hold onto those grudges. We don’t have to let those people live rent free in our heads, dragging up all the negative feelings and emotions all the time. We can let go. We can release it.

Let’s not forget that even on the cross Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Whatever it is, give it over to God.