Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

The Church As First Responders

         The images on the news from the recent earthquakes in Haiti have been powerfully haunting. It is shocking to see such devastation and suffering in a country that deals with hardship on a daily basis.

            It has been heartbreaking to watch those hundreds of thousands of people struggling, and at the same time heartening to see so many people give of their time, energy, and resources to help the hurting people of that land.

            But in the midst of all of that heartache and loss, I have seen news reports that were astounding to me.

            Have you seen the reports of people being pulled from the rubble alive after days and even weeks of being trapped?

            The usual way of thinking in the aftermath of such natural disasters’ is that people can survive for only 72 hours (or 3 days) of being trapped without adequate food, water, and medical care.

            So I was stunned to see on the news the report that a 23 year old man had been pulled out of the rubble of a hotel in Haiti 11 days after the earthquake. He was in good condition when he was pulled out from underneath the concrete and wood wreckage of the hotel. Rismond Exantus said he lay on his back the entire 11 days, eating cookies and drinking Coke to survive.

            Pulled out alive after 11 days trapped underneath the hotel wreckage! That’s an amazing story of survival.

            And then, just a few days later, 17-year-old Darlene Etienne was pulled from the rubble of her home by a French civil response team after spending 15 days trapped. She was dehydrated, had a broken leg and was moments from death when she was rescued, but she survived. 

            A teenager survives 15 days after being trapped in her home by an earthquake. That’s even more amazing!

            And just last week I heard the story of Evans Monsigrace, a 28 year old rice seller in Haiti who had just finished his rounds for the day in the center city market when the earthquake hit. He was trapped on his side in an area where some food was available. He was later rescued from the ruins 27 days after the earthquake. When he was pulled from the wreckage Monsigrace was thin as a stick and dehydrated, and rambling…but alive! 

            To survive for 27 days after the earthquake, with only a little water and some fruit is astounding!

            The fact that any of these people survived in a miracle. The United Nations reported that more than 130 people have been pulled alive from the ruins in the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake.

            I want us to think about an obvious question that has gone through my mind over and over as I read the stories of these rescued Haitians…Rismond, Darlene, Evans, and the other 130 Haitians…why couldn’t they just go for help themselves after the earthquake? Why did it take them 11 days, 15 days, and 27 days to get help?

            You know the answer to why they didn’t go get help for themselves in the aftermath of the earthquake…it is because they couldn’t. They were trapped. They were unable by themselves to get from where they were, to the place of help and rescue. They were covered up by the debris and the weight that had fallen on them.

            The only hope they had was if someone came to them, lifted off the weight pressing down on them, and took them to safety.

            When the Bible talks about people who are living their lives far from God, one image used to describe them is “covered up.” The reason they cannot get to God is because they are covered up. Even if they wanted to, they can’t get to God on their own. Their only hope is for someone to go to them and rescue them.

            Listen to this from 2 Corinthians chapter 3 in the New Testament:

 13 We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. 14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. 16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

(2 Corinthians 3:13-17)

So why didn’t the people from Haiti just go to their rescuers for help?

They couldn’t?

They were trapped under the rubble. They were buried under concrete and steel and wood from collapsed homes, stores, and businesses.

They could only be rescued if someone went to them and lifted off the debris that was covering them.

The Bible says those who are far from God are also covered up in a way that prevents them from coming to God on their own.

The Bible describes this as a “veil.” A veil hides things from our view. A veil keeps people from seeing clearly where they are, and where they are going.

            Look at what this passage teaches us about this idea of being covered with a veil:

1) People need help to remove the veil from their minds (3:14).

14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.

            As someone who has lived here in the South all my life—the Bible Belt as it’s known—it took me a number of years to learn this important truth. In a society that has a church building on nearly every corner, I assumed for years that when people realize they need God, they will walk right through the front door of the church and join us.

            It is the idea that lost sheep can find their way home on their own. I’ve learned better over the years. Now I call that “The Church Of Little Bo Peep.” Do you remember “Little Bo Peep?”

Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep,  

And doesn’t know where to find them.  

Leave them alone,

And they’ll come home,

Wagging their tails behind them.

            That’s the way I used to think church was. If the church would just keep the doors open then the lost sheep would find their way home on their own.

            But the Bible tells us that they can’t find their way by themselves. These lost sheep are more like those earthquake trapped Haitians. They are covered up and unable to find their way to God.

            It is as though a veil covers their minds and they cannot understand where they are and where they are headed.

            They need help if they are going to be rescued.

2) People need help to remove the veil from their hearts (3:15).

15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.

            In verse 15 the writer describes a person reading the Bible but the message of it is unable to penetrate down into the person’s heart. While they can understand the words, they can’t understand the message. It doesn’t touch their heart.

            When God described to the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel the change He wanted make in people He said this:

26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

(Ezekiel 36:26-27, NLT)

            Salvation, for God, is a heart transplant for humanity. When we are far from God, our hearts are veiled—covered—and we are unable to see our true condition and to find our way to God.

3) People have the veil removed when they turn their lives to Jesus (3:16-17).

16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

            It is in that moment when

trapped people,

lost people,

covered up people,

veiled people,

turn their lives over to Jesus Christ that the veil is lifted, and their rescue comes.

            Salvation is the freedom that Jesus brings to people who are trapped in the things of life that keep them from coming to God.

            Turning our lives to Jesus lifts the veil, removes he weight, opens our eyes, and changes our heart.

            The mission of Jesus Christ is to change lives, transform hearts, remove the veil, and set prisoners free.

            The mission of the church today is the same.          

            It is my all time favorite story. Let me share it with you today:

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.

Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Some of the new members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea.

They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they redecorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club.

Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do this work.

The mission of lifesaving was still talked about but most of the people were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the lifesaving activities personally.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people.

They were dirty and sick, some had skin of a different color, some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal activities of the club.

But some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the life of all various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. So they did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. They too developed into a club and yet another lifesaving station was founded.

If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people drown!

                        –anonymous

God is still calling the church to be a life-saving station. Millions of people are on this planet today who are trapped, covered up, and far from God. They cannot and will not find their way to God unless someone goes to them and rescues them. Jesus Christ is that One who rescues. The church of Jesus Christ is called to the ministry of “first responders”—those who go to people far from God and help them find their way back to Jesus Christ.

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