Ed Litton said he hasn’t looked at a car accident the same way since his wife Tammy was killed in one in 2007. And he doesn’t look at a homeless person the same way ever since his “prodigal” son lived on the streets of Atlanta for more than a year and a half.
“There are a few times in my life when I have received bad news, really bad news. You have, too,” Litton said June 14 during his president’s address at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. “Whatever it is, we often say our hearts were broken, but actually it was not from the heart that we felt it. We felt it in the gut. It is visceral. It’s a deep inward feeling rather than intellectual.”
It’s changed the way Litton has compassion for people who are going through what he’s gone through. But Jesus has a different kind of compassion, a better kind — because a “gut punch” moved him to action toward all hurting people.
“The word in the Greek language is the word ‘splankna.’ It literally means the moving of the intestines, pain in the vitals, a gut punch,” the pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, said, preaching from Matthew 9:35–38. “Jesus had a gut punch in Scripture multiple times.”
That gut punch moved Jesus to weep for Jerusalem, to heal the sick, to free the demon possessed.
“Compassion is the hallmark of His life and ministry. It is what drew people to Him. It is what made His preaching different,” Litton said.
He said he sees that compassion present in the Southern Baptist Convention in a number of ways.
“I thank God for you. I love you. I love this convention and after serving as president, I tell you that I am not cynical. I believe the greatness of the Southern Baptist Convention is not in our heroes and not in the more famous ones and it’s not in all the authors, though those are great people. I am telling you it is the faithful people who serve the Lord, much without recognition,” he said. “They are going to ash out in the burned-out homes in their neighborhoods, they are helping the flood victims, they are getting on planes and flying to Poland to help refugees.”
As Jesus went about His ministry, He helped and healed people and He also preached hope to them, Litton said. That’s why Southern Baptists are committed to seminary and Bible training.
“This is why we raise up Bible teachers and gospel communicators, because we are a people of the Book and the people of the Word of God. But we also do what Jesus does when we preach,” he said. “Our churches exist to be places where the Kingdom is gathered together, as an embassy for neighborhoods and communities, as a place where people come to hear the Word, be changed by the Word and go out living by the Word.”
Followers of Jesus must be marked by the same kind of compassion He demonstrated, Litton said.
What’s our ‘pattern’?
“Jesus’ gut punch was that He saw something, He felt something and He did something. That was His pattern, and it needs to be our pattern too. … I say this to my people at my church in Alabama, when you see something do not look away.”
That’s how Southern Baptists need to respond to the recommendations of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, Litton said — to look on with compassion and feel the gut punch of the suffering and trauma that so many have felt.
He said Baptists’ compassion cools when they distance themselves from the people who are hurting from all kinds of pain.
Isolation from a suffering world “doesn’t build compassion, it builds self-righteousness,” he said. “We may yet discover as Southern Baptists that our decline in baptisms is because our people have become separated from the hurt of our communities. It builds a lack of compassion for one another.”
Southern Baptists haven’t made headlines lately for their compassion and “don’t you wish they did? We are not only a Great Commission people, we are a Great Commandment people,” Litton said. “And that Great Commandment requires that we have His compassion.”
Southern Baptists need Christ’s compassion along with His vision to reach the billions of lost people in the world, Litton said. The two go hand in hand.
“There is no sending and no going without a gut wrenching — gut-wrenching reality of my own sin, the gut-wrenching reality of my own pride, the gut-wrenching reality of idols that need to fall in my life,” he said. “We can’t say we are the greatest missions sending agency in the world when we have a heart that lacks His compassion and a vision that lacks His vision for the world.”
View photos from this business session of the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting here.
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