October 7, 2015
Today I was reading in James 5, in The Message:
"My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God's truth, don't write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God."
I really never have understood that before--the urgency not only of "seeking the lost" as we were taught in my growing-up years, but equally (and maybe even more so?) the urgency of going after those who already have known and followed God's truth, and have started wandering off. That wandering could of course be an increasing return to following one's own ways and the ways of the world, but it could also be a wandering into a focus on some aspect of Christian belief, which takes over and eventually ignores not only the complete gospel message, but more critically, the focus on Christ himself. Even a focus on some single aspect of Jesus Christ--his love, for example--wonderful as that aspect is, and how much it defines him, can draw us aways from his completeness and wholeness, and thereby draw us away from him, without us even realizing it.
And the thing that really struck me-gobsmacked me, even--when I was reading these verses from James 5, was the power of one person's wandering, and the incredible importance of going after them, not only to rescue them and prevent them from personal destruction, but also to "prevent an epidemic of wandering away from God." It is sad but so true that when one person wanders, others too often follow. They might follow because they trust this "person of God." They might follow because the emotional appeal of the "focus" that person is wrapped up in, tied up in, is very appealing (like a focus on God's love), or very frightening (like God's judgment--and the person seems to be offering a way to be safe from it), or some other aspect that creates a strong emotional response. They might follow because we still live in our earthly bodies, and our earthly minds are still in the process of being changed into the mind of Christ, and so we still have, to some degree, an attraction to earthly pleasures, and to earthly kinds of wisdom, and to worldly ways of leadership and power.
So when a person wanders, it can become like allowing a person with a virulent strain of influenza loose in a crowd of people, or tossing a smouldering ember into dry grass. "It only takes a spark to get a fire going." It's so catching because believers wandering from God is easy and often very attractive--and often in our limited vision of things we don't even realize it is happening, until a whole crowd of believers have wandered off. And by that time the enemy is chortling with glee, and non-believers are looking on and shaking their heads, convinced that there is no sense in becoming a believer and follower of Jesus.
We used to sing the old, urgent Fanny Crosby hymn, "Rescue the Perishing," and I know that I, at least, thought of it only in terms of going after "sinners, the lost, unbelievers, pagans." It really didn't occur to me that it could--and does--refer strongly to rescuing those who are wandering away from the Lord who has already saved them, but in rescuing them, we truly are preventing that epidemic of wandering from God. And it happens so easily. We, the church, really do need each other, always clearly united and led by the Spirit of God, to be constantly aware and vigilant that each of us personally, and all of us as a group, are truly following Jesus alone, on "the straight and narrow path" upon which he leads us. It is an urgent situation:
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.
Weep o'er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
And I freely admit, right now, that I have been wandering, focusing on things "I don't like" (like some of the institutional approaches of churches) and things that I don't understand or find hard to accept (like why God allows so much suffering and how a God of love can also have a place like Hell). I have lost my love for and focus on Jesus, my Lord and Saviour, and have whined and complained to fellow believers, drawing them into my personal wanderings; and have also whined and complained to non-believers, confirming them in their perceptions of Christianity.
Some of the things I have wondered about and focused upon are totally legitimate questions that need understanding and answers; and are areas in which the church really needs to reconsider where it has gone and how it has perhaps failed and needs to move closer to Jesus and his path. But when I have focused on those questions to the extent that I myself have wandered from my relationship and trust in Jesus--and have led others to do so as well--I too have needed rescuing, as do those I have led astray, as well as prevention from me leading even more astray.
There are those who have tried to warn me, but I admit I mostly haven't been a good listener, wrapped up as I have been in my anger and frustration and puzzlement--yet obviously they, along with God's endlessly patient Spirit, have been getting through to me, pulling me back, rescuing me.
But I have also been "cocooned" by a world (including a church which has bought into the world's view of "tolerance," or presenting the gospel as a kind of seeker-friendly entertainment, or whatever), instead of a church consumed by love of Jesus and thereby patiently, lovingly, gracefully, kindly, yet "urgently" reaching out and rescuing those who have not yet known Him--and rescuing those who, for whatever reason, often without realizing it, have wandered from Him.
Though they are slighting Him, still he is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe.
Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wand'rer a Savior has died.
(Post on My Church Journey Oct 7, 2015)