Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty part 15
Restoring the Wanderer
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
May 4, 2008

 

Main Passage: James 5:19-20


Sarah 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 forest.

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 Sarah.

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.]

You 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.


Since January, 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.

But James 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.

But 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.

And 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 the truth…

He’s talking about your beliefs. He’s talking about your faith. “If someone among you has been a Christ-follower but wanders from the truth…

…and 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 many sins.

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?


Reasons People Wander From The Truth:

1.    They Are Not Alert

You 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)
Keep 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.


2.    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)
Temptation 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.

Shera 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 down.

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 dollars worth.

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.

PICTURES

The 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.


3.    They Lose Their Spiritual Edge

You 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.

But 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)
“But 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.


4.    They Are Deceived By Lies

I 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.

So 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.

She’s teamed up with author Eckhart Tolle and has been promoting all of these different ideas, to an audience of over 2 million people in 139 countries.

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.

We’re 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.


5.    They Become Disillusioned

Maybe 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.

Or 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.




So 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.

So 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?


Principles for Dealing With Wanderers:

1.    Love Them Like God Loves Them

When 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.

That’s 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.


2.    Keep Them As A Priority In Your Life

I 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 touch.

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.

You 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.


3.    Pray With Confidence

You 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.

But 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.

So 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 solution.

But you don’t have to wonder what God’s will is. He’s already told us. So pray with confidence.


4.    Live With Integrity

Don’t 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;

What 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!”

“Come 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)
And 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 reconciliation.

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.



But here’s 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.


Now 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.




[Note: This message 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.]



 

 

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