Catalyst for Compassion

It’s a book for people with a passion for justice. For readers who love a well-told story. For students with a hankering for history. It’s a book for folks who want their life to count, but worry it won’t. For would-be world-changers who wonder how to invest their time and energy. For those who would be a better friend. And it’s a book for pastors in small parishes, limited both by the scope of their ministry and the resources at their disposal.

I am so excited to recommend this book.

Catalyst for Compasssion Cover_Full Bleed
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Now, obviously, the word of a wife on behalf of her husband sounds a little suspect. Who wouldn’t plug the book her best friend wrote? But I add to my wife-words the words of one who longs to make a difference in the world, the words of one who’s worshiped in inner-city schools and behind bars, who’s served for a long season in unglamorous church planting.

This is a book for all of us who seek to do small things with great love.

The story of John Newton, which fills the first two-thirds of the book, is the story of a slave…who became a slave-trader…who fought for decades to topple the slave trade. In and of itself, it’s a gripping biography. Add to Newton’s crazy tale the vast web of lives he touched, and it is astonishing.

Robert Coleman wrote, “We must decide where we want our ministry to count—in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives in a few chosen people who will carry on our work after we have gone. Really it is a question of which generation we are living for.” Newton, like Jesus, poured his life into a small group of faithful, available, teachable people, and the resulting cascades of grace overflowed in missions, literature, government, culture, theology, and compassionate ministry on several continents and for decades to follow. Here is a story of the power of multiplication—the power of friendship to change the world.

How one man (not super-educated, not terribly posh) came to grips with the depth of his own depravity and spent the rest of his remaining days slowly, intentionally cultivating friendships and serving in small places—how one life, patiently poured out, impacted thousands of people around the world—here is a story to kindle hope in tired hearts. 

The lessons teased out of this remarkable story fill the last third of the book with concrete suggestions and incredibly relevant action steps for pastors today who would follow in Newton’s footsteps. But as one who is not a pastor, I can attest that the Christ-like friendships which characterized Newton’s life are possible for anyone who wants a legacy to outlive their lifetime. Pastor or not, if your life looks like Newton’s, you, too, will leave an imprint on the world.

Living like Newton means contentment in your God-given situation. It means humility, grace, continual awe at God’s goodness. It means giving your life away on behalf of the lost and the least of these, and loving steadfastly those who don’t deserve it (because after all, we don’t deserve it, either.) It means serving with no guarantee of success and being okay with that. It means tending deep friendships and warm community with a motley crew—much like Jesus, friend of sinners. And it spills over continually in contagious worship, Spirit-inspired courage, and full surrender. 

My sweet husband is an awful lot like his historical mentor. Hours spent knee-deep in Newton’s  correspondence, his hymns, and his books, have nurtured deep in Michael that same steady joy, that same rooted trust. He has embraced small places and yet remained open to taking big risks. He’s plugged away in obscurity and labored to raise up leaders who exude compassion and integrity. Because he is humble, Christ in him shines all the brighter. History repeats itself, and disciples replicate the grace they’ve been given. What a gift.

Newton wrote, “The Lord has given you a heart to serve him, and he will stand by you. The sailors have a saying, that if it was always fine weather the old women would go to sea; but the skill of the mariner is seen in the storm. Trust in your pilot, and manage your sails, and all will be well.” Who better than an old sailor to teach us how to sail?

To have Newton for a tutor, who had Jesus for a tutor, is indeed amazing grace. Here is a book that unpacks the treasures of God’s great grace for all of us to enjoy.

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