As we start out this year being the salt and light of the world, God is launching us into a new message series.  This new series is entitled, “I AM.”  In this series, we’re going to study who God says that He is.  We will then be challenged to go out and be the salt and light of the world in that same way.  Or, as John wrote:

1 John 4:17

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment:
In this world we are like Jesus. Or in the KJV: As He is, so are we in this world.

Unfortunately, our view of who God is can become easily distorted.  Even when God came in the flesh and you could walk up and talk with Him and observe Him with the five natural senses, there was confusion about who God was.

Matthew 16:13-17
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,“Who do people say I am?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.

The best way to get to know who God truly is is through a healthy, authentic relationship with Him directly.  What people, flesh and blood, could not reveal to Peter, the Heavenly Father clearly revealed.
We most practically get to know God through our experiences with Him.  This is much the same way as we would get to know anyone.  We get to know them as we live life together.  We learn their likes and dislikes, their personalities, and how they respond in different circumstances.  With this in mind, throughout the Old Testament, we find many different names of the one true God which reveal His various attributes as they were revealed to men and women through encounters and experiences with Him.
They found that God is a provider, a healer, a defender, one who is present, a creator, a redeemer, etc. through their experiences with Him.
These experiences are a great way to get to know God.  Our encounters with God, however, can sometimes reveal more about ourselves than about what God is truly like.  Think about this in terms of our own personal relationships.  Some people think that all workplace supervisors are jerks.  This is based off of their past experiences where they butted heads with their supervisors at all of their jobs.  What this might actually reveal, though, isn’t that those individuals were jerks, but that they are a bit stubborn and rebellious.  It may not reveal that all supervisors are jerks, but that I possess the prideful attitude that my ways are always best.
This happens in our relationship with God as well.  Some people see God has a judgmental, wrathful god quick to punish you when you disobey Him.  This is usually because Christians in their lives were quick to point out and punish their faults.  Often we view our Heavenly Father through the lens of our earthly father figures.  We view His authority through the lens of how people used their authority in our lives.  Obviously we should never learn who someone is through another person and not through a firsthand relationship with them, but the reality is that we do form opinions of someone through the testimony of others.  This is why it is so critical for us to know who God truly is and how He would respond in a situation so that “as He is, so are we in this world.”
Think about it in the natural world.  When a judge passes a judgment in a case, he is often viewed as good and just by one party and wrong and unfair by the other party.  Neither of them, however, have a relationship with that judge to know what he is truly like.  They determine who he is based on an experience that they had with him.  God’s discipline simultaneously seems unloving and unfair to one person and loving and merciful to another.  The fact that God will send people to hell at the white throne judgment seems contradictory to the love of God to some, but just and understandable to others.
It can also be God simply putting up a theoretical mirror so that we see how we are.  His word, in fact, reveals this.  When David had been delivered from Saul and all of his enemies, he sang out and his song is recorded in both 2 Samuel 22 as well as Psalm 18.

2 Samuel 22:26-27; Psalm 18:25-26
To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.

Sometimes we see God a certain way not because that is how He truly is, but because that is how we are.  Think about how God must have been perceived by Pharaoh in the days of Moses or the people of Jericho or of the other cities that Israel obliterated as they inherited their promised land.  They wouldn’t likely describe Him as the good and faithful God of all compassion and mercy, which is how He describes Himself!

Due to this reality in which we live, we’re only going to cover in this message series the way in which God directly describes or reveals Himself.  This morning, God is reminding us that, “I AM compassionate.”
Although this can be deduced from many encounters that the Lord had with people, He first makes this proclamation in Exodus 34.  Here, Moses is back on Mount Sinai for another copy of the covenant law that God gave him after having broken the first set.  No, you’re not the first person to throw something in your anger.  Imagine being Moses having thrown the first writings of God and having to go back and ask for another copy of them…
Before God gave Moses another copy of the the covenant law, however, God showed Moses His glory.  He caused all of His goodness to pass before Him and then:
Exodus 34:5-7
5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Firstly, He proclaimed Himself to be the LORD.  In the Hebrew, Yĕhovah/Jehova, meaning “the existing One.”  This is the proper name of God used 6,519 times in the Old Testament.  There is so much to discuss regarding this name that God gives to Himself, but for this morning, we’re moving on to the first adjective that God uses to describe Himself: compassionate.
God is compassionate.  This Hebrew word, rachuwm (rakh·üm’), means a bit more than simply being compassionate.  It literally means full of compassion.  God is full of compassion!  It is also sometimes translated into English as the word merciful.  This word is used most often when God was about to punish or destroy someone for their sins.  When the people chose to turn away from their sins and toward God, in other words, when they chose to repent, it motivated the compassion of God.
Compassion, by definition, requires two different parts working together.  Merriam Webster defines compassion as: the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.  In order to be compassionate, we first must be aware and conscious of the distress of others.  Then, we must have a desire to alleviate that distress.
I firmly believe that one of the greatest causes in our culture today for apathy toward others is a lack of awareness of what is happening in the lives of others around us.  We have transitioned from a people who rely on our neighbors and our community to a people isolated from our neighbors and our community.  Technology has made it so easy to stay connected with one another, yet has caused our actual, physical relationships to be so disconnected.
Compassion is forcibly stirred up and hijacked by causes that become social media trends so that we give generously to organizations that we’ll never personally interact with while our next door neighbor goes hungry.  We see abused puppies and kittens while “In the Arms of the Angel” plays.  We just have to help them, we just have to save them!  Meanwhile, Orphans of the Storm, just a short drive away, struggles to feed and house their animals.  We see starving children digging through trash heaps while “Amazing Grace” plays.  We just have to help them, we just have to feed them!  Meanwhile, a child is beaten and locked in their room hungry just three doors down the road.
Now there is nothing wrong with giving generously to these organizations and the work that they do is awesome!  However, we are failing to be the salt and light of the world if we’re quicker to pull out our wallet for an organization than we are to extend our hand to those in our own community.  The primary reason that we are this way, however, isn’t that we wouldn’t help those in our community, it is that we’re unaware of what is happening in the lives of those around us.
The second part of compassion is that we have to possess a strong desire to help alleviate the distress of others.  It is so easy to look at the distress of people in our community and not have compassion toward them.  Yes, we see their suffering, but because of our personal connection with them, we also see why they are suffering.  Rather than being moved by compassion toward them, we are moved by indifference or harshness.  We think to ourselves, “They have enough money for a beer and cigarettes, but they poor mouth about not being able to buy groceries.”
Now, I’ve said it myself and could even quote off several scriptures to defend that stance.  However, that’s not who were being called to be this year.  If we compare the fruits of this attitude found in Galatians 5, we’ll quickly see that this attitude is a fruit of our flesh and not a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  This isn’t us representing God, it is us representing our old selves.  Jesus had every reason to point a condemning finger at us and leave us to suffer on our own because of our sinful ways, but He instead was moved by compassion and paid the price for our sinful ways.
God is full of compassion!  God knows far better than us just how sinful, wicked, and foolish we are and knows better than us the foolish decisions that put people into a place of suffering.  God can justly and righteously stand in judgment and condemnation against them, yet He reaches out to alleviate their suffering in compassion.  If “as He is, so are we in this world”, then why should we be so indifferent toward the suffering of another human being made in His image?
Look to the example of Jesus.  He pursued the outcasts of His community.  He went into the homes of the poor, of the needy, and of the corrupt government officials.  Jesus carried the Presence of God to those who were not legally allowed anywhere near the temple that housed the mercy seat of God.
God is full of compassion, are we?
This begins by us becoming more aware of what is happening around us.  Thankfully, God has given us an incredible tool set for doing this!  It starts with our voice.  We can use our words.  We can say things like, “Hi, I”m Steve.” We can ask questions like “Would you like to come over for dinner some evening?”  As we get to know them and what’s happening in their lives, we can begin to ask questions like, “Is there anything that I can do to help?”  Of course, we also have spiritual gift tools to use such as receiving a word of knowledge or a prophetic word for someone.  However, those tools work best after we’ve build a relationship with them.
After becoming aware of what’s happening in someone else’s life, we then need to have the desire to alleviate their suffering.  As God promised in Isaiah 58, if we spend ourselves on their behalf, God will have our backs and will take care of our needs.
There is so, so much more to study and discuss on this matter, which I encourage everyone to do.  Many times, the Bible records Jesus being moved by compassion toward people and our Heavenly Father being moved by compassion toward people in their suffering.  God truly is full of compassion!
This year, let’s get to know someone new.  Someone who might be living in darkness and in dire need of hope.  Let’s be the salt and light of the world.  As Jesus was, so we will commit to be this year.  We will make the choice to put off indifference and suspicion and choose to be like Jesus; full of compassion!