The leading local story today has to do with how police and fire responded to the Aurora theatre shooting in the summer of 2012, a horrific crime that left 12 dead and most of the other theatre patrons injured to one degree or another. Those tasked with evaluating the response use words like “chaotic” and uncoordinated to describe what emergency responders did in the face of the incredibly unusual and tragic scene. It is hard to imagine how one would prepare for something so unprecedented and it is much easier to make such evaluations in hindsight, but all seem agreed about the need to work together more efficiently when faced with life or death situations.
There is no greater life or death situation than concerns the spiritual state of even a single soul. Whether we are talking about bringing a lost soul to Christ, helping a discouraged or offended brother or sister, or retrieving a Christian who has fallen away, it requires a coordinated response! Many people are needed to work together to help a person in his or her relationship to God. Paul urges, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another…” (1 Th. 5:11). He also writes, “Bear one another’s burden” (Gal. 6:2a).
When we are faced with the challenge of reaching a lost soul, think of all the coordination needed. There is the friend or family member trying to reach them, but who else? What about the one(s) trying to study with them, not to mention members who need to reach out to them by befriending them, make them feel welcome, have them into their homes, and introduce them to other Christians?
When someone is struggling, it requires many people calling and reaching out, visiting, and doing what can be done to show them love and concern. When someone has fallen away, it takes more than the preacher or an elder to do that “heavy lifting.” Anyone who knows them and can influence them should coordinate with all others to rescue the perishing one!
Twelve lives ended that fateful night in Aurora. It has been determined that emergency responders were not responsible for a single person being lost, a fact that has to provide them with solace and validation. When we stand before Christ, each of us wants to do our part so that we can say no one was lost due to our neglect or lack of response.
CBS News reports on 19-year-old Chris Strickland, a very ordinary young man who seems unaware of how heroic his split-second action was. In his first job, Chris, working at a Home Depot in Anchorage, Alaska, happened to turn around and face a shopping cart at the moment an unattended baby fell out of a baby seat sitting atop it. Store surveillance video captures the whole thing, as Strickland rushes over and reaches out to catch the falling infant. For this simple, profoundly important act, Strickland will receive the Home Depot Angel Award, “reserved for those who perform exceptional acts of heroism” (via http://www.cbsnews.com/news/quick-thinking-home-depot-employee-saves-falling-baby/).
If all goes well, some day that baby will grow up, maybe get married and have children, and, optimists might say, do some great thing—become president, save an entire burning building full of people, or, better yet, become a faithful Christian responsible for scores of folks getting to heaven. No matter what happens with the child, it will not diminish the heroism of this young man who, at the right place and right time, chose to save another human being and one literally helpless.
In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul speaks of Christ giving an unequaled reward on the Judgment Day. It will be for those heros and heroines who loved His coming and appearance, who fought, finished, and kept the faith (7). In a parable about the Judgment, Jesus speaks of the award winning “sheep” who will enter heaven. What did they do? Cared for those who had needs. James 1:12 speaks of a reward Christ will personally give to those who persevere under trial.
You didn’t consider yourself a “hero,” did you? Passages like those above speak of how ordinary folks like us can receive the highest honor of all time and eternity. How? By faithful endurance, service, and response to Jesus, the Lord! Congratulations!
On May 24, 1941, the fifth salvo of the German battleship Bismarck sank the British battlecruiser HMS Hood. The hit split the ship in two and it sank in three minutes! 1,415 members of its crew perished. But, three survived—William Dundass, Bob Tilburn, and Ted Briggs. Dundass survived by kicking out a starboard side window and swimming away. The two other survivors praised him for helping keep them awake and alive as they awaited rescue. Tilburn was a gunner, spared by his gun’s splinter shield. But two fellow sailors at the post with him were killed and he witnessed this. This horrible sight made Tilburn sick and he was leaning over the side of the ship when he saw it sinking. This allowed him to wind up safely in the water and, after some harrowing entanglements with debris, he paddled over to the other two survivors. Briggs, a signalman and only 18, was near the bridge when the ship began to roll. He was sucked under but somehow propelled back up to the surface. He found a small raft—”biscuit float”—and was joined by the other two survivors on their floats. They were in the frigid waters of the Denmark Strait three hours before being rescued by a British destroyer (info via UK Telegraph, H.M.S. Hood Association, and wikipedia).
Death came violently and quickly for the overwhelming majority of the crew. The three who did not die survived through a combination of skill, determination, and fortunate circumstances. In the aftermath of surviving the sinking, they leaned on one another to live through it all. It is profoundly sad that so many men lost their lives in this one action and intriguing that three were saved.
From the beginning of time, the Bible has revealed that the overwhelming majority are going to be lost. Jesus teaches that few will find eternal life (Mat. 7:13-14). We see this principle of “few” in Noah’s days (Gen. 6-8), in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), among the nation of Israel (2 Ki. 17; 2 Chr. 36), and the idea is conveyed by Jesus’ teaching about the end of time. In our case, we are looking to help others survive. We should not only be concerned with our own survival, but look for anyone else we can reach! We may not be able to save many, but our work is to help anyone we can (cf. Mat. 28:19-20)!
By now, many have heard the incredible story of Harrison Odjegba Okene, the Nigerian cook whose incredible survival and rescue from the tugboat where he served as cook has been made public. He was actually rescued near the end of May, 2013, but video of the rescue has just recently hit the internet. Okene rose early on the morning of May 26 at about 4:30 A.M. and was in the toilet when the tugboat keeled over and sank, eventually drowning the 10 Nigerian crew members and Ukrainian captain. Okene groped in the dark until he found a cabin where there was an air pocket. He spent the next three days, certain no one would look for or could find the small boat but still praying, reciting psalms his wife sent to him each day, and reflecting on his entire life. His rescue, by a Dutch diving crew who happened to be working at an oil rig 75 miles away, was as much a shock to divers—considering this strictly a recovery effort— as it was to him, but disbelief quickly gave way to joy. In a space of about four square feet, 100 feet from the surface of the vast Atlantic Ocean, Harrison Odjegba Okene, lived to tell this incredible tale (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/12/04/man-survives-60-hours-at-bottom-atlantic-rescued-after-finding-air-pocket-in/).
There will likely never be a story of rescue more incredible than this unless we are thinking in spiritual terms. From that perspective, each person who is saved by God is an incredible, unlikely rescue. In a world of darkness, each of us finds ourselves groping along and heading toward almost certain spiritual death. Most will not make it through “alive” (Eph. 2:1). Yet, Paul speaks of (Col. 1:13) and Peter implies (2 Pe. 2:7) a heavenly rescue mission. The difference between our story and that of Okene is that we can choose to be rescued or, as most do, elect to perish. It should humble us and strike us with awe that we have had access to His saving plan and that we can submit to it and be saved. Most incredible is the length to which God was willing to go and the price He was willing to pay to find us and save us. May I suggest that salvation from sin is a bigger story than surviving in a capsized, tiny boat for 72 hours 100 feet deep? One forestalls physical death for a time, but the other eliminates spiritual death for eternity!
Since 1970, San Diego has been home to a Comic Book convention that has grown to international renown and is patronized by over 100,000 people per year. This is where your comic book aficionados, sci-fi fans, and the like congregate to celebrate imaginary heroes from the entertainment world. From Spider Man to Spock, these fictional characters are honored by attendees who dress, act, and talk like them. It matters little if the patrons are 5’6″ and 300 pounds. It’s a place and time to pretend.
This year, three stuntmen promoting an upcoming movie heard the screams of onlookers as a drunk, jilted woman had climbed outside the railing of the balcony of her fourteenth story apartment. In her inebriated, distraught state, she intended to take her life. The stuntmen sprang into action, scaling a fence and then racing up to her apartment, before stealthily racing out to stop her from what seemed to be an imminent jump. They had been trained for lifesaving operations, but they typically used those skills for entertaining moviegoers (via http://www.abcnews.com).
When I heard about this, I thought about the wonderful opportunities you and I have, week after week, to assemble and study God’s Word together. Added to that, hopefully, is daily time spent by each of us in the Bible in personal devotion. While this time and effort is meant to spiritually strengthen and protect us, it is also training for the work we have to do as Christians. If we are not intentional, however, we can find ourselves in some ways resembling New Testament Christians without doing the heroic things they did. Or, we can undergo that continuous spiritual training without putting it into practical use to save those who relatively soon will head into eternity. God needs us mustering the courage and conviction to put what we know into practice in order to save those in desperate need of rescue. What will we do this week to reach out and help someone in need of Jesus? Doing nothing, as a matter of practice, makes us, at best, pretenders. Seeking to save the lost makes us heroes on an unparalleled magnitude! May we so strive.