Gets Its Hands Dirty part 15
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
May 4, 2008
Passage: James 5:19-20
was only six years old when it happened, just a few years younger than
I was. Her family attended the same church I did, but this one
particular weekend they were at their cottage on the edge of a dense
The family was relaxing and enjoying themselves for
quite a while before one of them suddenly realized that Sarah was no
where in sight. She had apparently wandered off. So they started to
look for her, but to no avail.
By this time, it was into the
evening. They knew that a service was being held at my home church, so
one of the family members drove back into town and came to the church
where they asked for prayer and for volunteers to go and search for
A large number of people, mostly men, volunteered and
they all drove to the cottage and searched the forest through the night
and into the next day. By that time, people were starting to lose hope
of finding her alive. But finally someone stumbled upon her. She was
all right, and everyone began celebrating.
This had, of course,
been quite an ordeal for everyone involved. And it all began when Sarah
wandered away from where she should have been and got lost. And it took
the efforts and prayers of a lot of people to get her back again.
[And of course the moral of the story is, don’t skip church on Sunday
just to spend a day at the cottage.]
know, people can physically wander away, like Sarah did. But they can
also wander away spiritually. They can wander away from where they
should be in their relationship with God. And when that happens, it may
take the efforts and prayers of a lot of people before they are brought
back into a right relationship before God.
we’ve been working our way through the New Testament book of James…
gradually progressing through these 108 verses right up until today
when we’ve finally reached the end of the book.
As we’ve seen,
over and over again James addresses our actions. He gives practical
guidelines on what it means to live as a Christ-follower. To the point
that it has actually become a scandal at various times in church
history. There have been Church leaders, including Martin Luther, who
didn’t think that James even belonged in the Bible. They claimed that
the book focused too much on works and too little on faith. They
thought the book was teaching that you can earn your salvation by doing
good things, which goes against what we know the rest of the Bible
teaches. We know that the overarching teaching of the Bible is that we
are saved by God’s grace when we place our faith in Him, and not by any
good deeds we do. We can’t earn our way into Heaven.
talks so much about our good deeds that it looks like he’s saying the
opposite. It looks like he’s saying you can earn your salvation.
that’s not really the message of James. What James is really saying is
that once you have placed your faith in Jesus, then your actions should
follow. They should be a natural outflow of your faith. Faith comes
first, and when your faith is genuine, good works should follow.
besides, James is writing to the already convinced. He’s writing to
believers who have already placed their faith in Jesus. He’s not
presenting the case for faith because his audience had already come to
terms with that. So James launched right into a discussion about how
our faith should affect the way you live.
And then you get to
these final two verses. And after all the talk about how to act and
what to say and what it means to live the Christian life, James
finishes up by reminding us that faith is important… and that without
faith in Jesus, our good works really don’t matter. He says…
James 5:19-20 (NLT);
My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from
talking about your beliefs. He’s talking about your faith. “If someone
among you has been a Christ-follower but wanders from the truth…
is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back
will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of
So James is reminding us that we are saved from death
when we place our faith in Jesus, and we experience forgiveness in
response to our faith.
And at the same time, he’s reminding us
that there are plenty of people who at one time or other have placed
their faith in Jesus… they’ve believed in Him, they’ve based their hope
in Him… but then they turned away. For whatever reason, they’ve turned
their back on their faith.
So for the rest of our time here this
morning and as we finish up this message series, we’re going to talk
about people who have wandered away from the truth… people who have
turned their backs on their faith. Why do they do it, and how can we be
part of the solution bringing them back?
People Wander From The Truth:
They Are Not Alert
know when it’s a real problem to not be alert? When your driving. Like
the time Maureen and Kathy were heading for Halifax and ended up in
Cape Breton. Or when I was driving to a home in New Hampshire and ended
up in Massachusetts. I just wasn’t alert and I missed the exit. And as
a result, I ended up a long way from where I should have been.
In 1 Timothy 4:16 (NLT), Paul told Timothy…
1 Timothy 4:16 (NLT)
a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what
is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those
who hear you.
But so many Christians today fail to keep watch.
They get so busy and so easily distracted by other things, that they
begin to let their relationship with Jesus slide. They start to
compromise on their beliefs without even realizing what they’re doing.
And before they know it they have wandered far from the Truth.
They Give In To Temptation
Temptation can lure you away and cause you to wander. James talked
about this all the way back in chapter 1. He said…
James 1:14-15 (NLT)
comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These
desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow,
it gives birth to death.
What does temptation do? It entices us
and it drags us away. It pulls us away from the truth. It pulls us away
from the faith we have in Jesus. It takes our eyes off of Jesus as
being the answer to all that we’re looking for in life and it tells us
that we can find what we’re looking for by giving in to the temptation.
and I were in Fredericton this past week, and if you’ve been following
the news at all, then you know that they’ve been experiencing some
pretty serious flooding. Hundreds of homes have been evacuated, over 50
streets were closed, and the downtown district was pretty much shut
Which of course meant we had to go down and take a look.
So my brother, his two kids, Shera, Nate and me… we all crowded into my
mother’s minivan to drive down and take a look.
And it was a
remarkable sight. Riverside parks completely submerged under meters of
water. Emergency vehicles helping people get out of their homes. Road
signs appearing to be stuck out in the middle of the river. Flood
waters creeping up the walls of businesses. There’s going to be some
serious damage caused by this flood… tens or hundreds of millions of
And when something like that’s taking place, you
know what happens, right? Everyone flocks out to see it. Huge crowds of
people were out driving in cars, standing on bridges, taking pictures
along the shore. And we were right there with them. Idiots.
very next day, after we were down to take a look, the authorities
decided that they would start to ticket people who were there only to
sightsee. They didn’t want people to be endangering their lives just to
get a good picture.
Because you know what they were afraid of,
right? They were afraid that someone would take too great a risk and
would get too close and would be swept away.
And when you think
about it, isn’t that what temptation does? It draws you in… it looks
appealing… you don’t want to miss out… you think you’ll be fine… you
don’t realize the danger… so you get closer and closer until you get
too close, and you’re swept away.
Many people wander away from the truth because they get lured away and
swept away by temptation.
They Lose Their Spiritual Edge
know, sometimes hockey teams lose their edge. The Ottawa Senators were
a prime example of that this year. During the first 15-20 games, they
were on such a streak that there were being called by some
commentators, “The best team in history.” Everything seemed to be going
their way. Their passes were connecting, their star players were
performing, and the pucks were going in the net. They had the edge.
then everything fell apart. They started making stupid mistakes. There
shots kept hitting the post. They stopped playing like a team. And it
looked to me like they lost their passion. They lost their edge. And as
a result, they just barely made the playoffs and were beat out in a
four game sweep in the first round.
When a team loses its edge,
what does a good coach tell his team to do? He tells them they need to
get back to basics. They need to forget about the media attention
they’ve been getting, they’ve got to stop trying to create fancy plays,
and they need to start working on the little things that brought them
success in the first place.
You know, we lose our spiritual edge
when we lose our passion for God. When there's no excitement about our
Christian lives. We stop doing the things that keep us spiritually
sharp—things like Bible study and prayer. When this happens, we lose
our bearings and we wander from the Truth.
This is what
happened to the church in Ephesus. In the letters to the seven churches
in the book of Revelation, Jesus told the church in Ephesus…
Revelation 2:4-5 (NLT)
I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as
you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do
the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove
your lampstand from its place among the churches.”
They had lost
their spiritual edge. They had lost their passion. And Jesus called
them back to basics. He called them to repent and be restored.
They Are Deceived By Lies
don’t know if you’ve been following the latest exploits by Oprah, but
over the past couple of months she’s been offering spiritual classes
over the Internet. I had heard about a few of the things she was
teaching, and there were some sites online that were really criticizing
her. At first, I figured it was just a few religious nuts out there
attacking Oprah… there never seems to be a shortage of them.
I decided to check it out for myself. And what I found was very
disturbing. She’s mixing together Christianity with eastern mysticism
and some new age self-help feel-good philosophy and basically coming up
with a new religion. She’s talking about how sin is not an issue, and
how we just need to learn to see the good in ourselves. According to
her, Jesus didn’t die for our forgiveness. He just came to show us a
better way to live. She says there are many paths to God, in direct
conflict with what Jesus said about Him being the way, the truth, and
the life… the one and only way to God the Father.
up with author Eckhart Tolle and has been promoting all of these
different ideas, to an audience of over 2 million people in 139
Now, I don’t have a vendetta against Oprah, and I
think she’s done a lot of good things. But I think that what she’s
doing right now is very dangerous. She’s mixing enough truth in with
enough lies, that it goes down very easily. She’s been deceived herself
by the lies, and now she’s actively deceiving others with the same lies.
going to talk more about that next week. But you know, if you are a
Christ-follower… and even if you’re not… you have to be very careful
what you accept as truth. You can’t just accept something as being true
because Oprah says it. Hey, you can’t even do that because I say it.
You should be evaluating. You should be weighing what you’re hearing
with what you know to be true. Does it line up? What does Scripture
have to say?
Because more than a few people have been misled and wander from the
truth because they’ve been deceived by lies.
They Become Disillusioned
they’ve encountered some hypocritical Christians and they’ve decided
that if that’s what Christianity is all about, they don’t want anything
to do with it.
Maybe they’ve been hurt… maybe they’ve endured a tragedy… and so they
blame God and the Church.
maybe they thought that being a Christian was all about following a
list of rules and regulations. For them, being a Christian means that
you live by the book and do all the right things. It's a life of duty.
And if you make one mistake, God's there to zap you. So maybe they’ve
become disillusioned because they thought they could never succeed as a
Christian. But they don’t understand that Christianity is first and
foremost about a relationship. And then it’s living in such a way that
build on that relationship instead of tearing it apart.
there are all kinds of one-time Christ-followers in the world today who
have wandered wander away from the Truth for one reason or another.
Maybe for one of these five, maybe for another reason all together.
Ultimately the choice is theirs, whether they will live for Jesus or
not. But we must do everything we can to bring them back.
with that in mind, let me give you some general principles that could
help make the difference. James talked about restoring the wanderer, so
what can we do to help that to happen?
for Dealing With Wanderers:
Love Them Like God Loves Them
Jesus was walking this earth, when did He love people? Did He love them
only after they decided to follow Him? No, He loved people even when
they were as far from God as they could get. So He hung out with them,
He ate meals with them, He went to parties with them… His love for
people was not dependent on their spiritual condition. He loved people
in spite of their spiritual condition, and often that’s exactly what
ended up bringing people around to placing their faith in Him.
Romans 5:8 (NLT)
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us
while we were still sinners.
the love of God… even when we were sinners… even when we were enemies
of God… He came to earth and died for us. So how much does God love
people who are far from Him today? With that same kind of love that
would do anything for them.
In Luke 15, Jesus talks about the
lost. And He tells us three stories to demonstrate the extent of God’s
love. One sheep out of 100 is lost and the shepherd leaves the other 99
to find the one that is lost. One coin out of 10 in lost and a woman
turns her house upside down to find it. One brother out of 2 is lost
and the father watches faithfully for his return. The ratio changed: 1
in 100, 1 in 10, 1 in 2, but in every case, what was lost mattered
deeply. And it was found, a party was thrown.
That’s the love
that God has for the lost. He’d do anything for them. He seeks
relentlessly to find them. And He celebrates when they’re found again.
Keep Them As A Priority In Your Life
think too often we shun people who have wandered from the truth. Either
purposely or not, we forget about them and make no effort to keep in
One of my best friends in high school was a Christian and
very much involved in the church. In fact, he started out training to
be a pastor. But then his life got pretty rough. A failed marriage
followed by bankruptcy. And now he’s given up on God. I was talking
with him a while back and we discussed all of this. He told me that one
of the things that really affected him was that when his life was in
upheaval his Christian friends were nowhere to be found. And
unfortunately, I was one of them. Oh, I didn’t intend to ignore him. I
just had other things going on, I didn’t know what to say to him, and
it just was easy to forget all about him.
But I wonder how his life would be different now if I had stuck by him.
If I had been a faithful friend.
know, we get uncomfortable around people who have wandered from the
truth, and I understand that. I’ve been there. But we can’t allow that
to prevent us from associating with them. If you know someone who has
wandered from the truth, maintain your relationship. Don’t alienate
them. Let them know they are still important to you, and be there to
support them through rough times.
Pray With Confidence
know, there are interesting little habits we often pick up when we
pray. One of them is when we pray and we add the little phrase, “If it
be Your will.” Now, the Bible does talk about praying according to the
will of God, and so sometimes it’s good and it’s appropriate to add
that little phrase, “If it be Your will.” That’s a good sentiment,
since it displays a willingness to submit to the Lordship of God.
there are times when it’s not necessary to pray like that, because we
already know the will of God. We don’t have to say, “If it’s Your will”
because we already know His will.
2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to
come to repentance.
let me ask you this. When you’re praying for your friend who has
wandered away from their faith, do you really need to pray, “God, bring
them back” and then hedge your bet by adding, “if it’s Your will”? No,
God has already made His will clear in this area. So pray that His Will
will be accomplished. Pray that He will use you to be part of the
But you don’t have to wonder what God’s will is. He’s already told us.
So pray with confidence.
Live With Integrity
be the cause of someone turning their back on God for good. Don’t be
the hypocrite that pushes them away. Instead, be the person of
integrity that gradually draws them back. The apostle Paul wrote…
2 Corinthians 5:20 (NLT)
So we are Christ’s ambassadors;
does an ambassador do? An ambassador represents someone else. You and I
are Christ’s ambassadors. We represent Him. So we need to live like we
represent Him. We need to have integrity in the way we live, in the way
we conduct our business, and in the way we handle our relationships.
Live with Integrity. “We are Christ’s ambassadors…
God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead,
“Come back to God!”
back to God.” What’s that mean? It means, “Be restored in your
relationship with Him. Remove whatever is separating you from Him.
Return to Him once more.” Just a couple verses earlier, Paul wrote…
2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NLT)
God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in
Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s
sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of
This is one of the primary purposes we have as
Christ-followers… reconciling people to God. It’s the primary reason
we’re here. It’s the mission we were given.
the thing. You and I can’t force anyone to place their faith in God. If
someone turns their back on Him and decides to wander away, that’s
their choice. But what we can do is faithfully pray for them, be
compassionate toward them, and maintain a friendship with them with the
hope that God will use our influence to bring them back again.
just as we finish here, I want each of you to think of someone that you
know that has wandered away from God. You’ve probably already been
thinking about them. Or if you really don’t know anyone who has
wandered away, think of someone who has never placed their faith in God
in the first place. And I want you to pray specifically for them. Pray
that God will find a way to reach them. Pray that God will soften their
heart so they will be receptive to Him. And pray that God will use you
as part of the solution. I’ll give you just a little while to pray
silently, and then I’ll close in prayer.
series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that
Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell,
and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]