Bringing Back the Wandering Brother
Study of James
By Todd Stiles
Bible Text: James 5:19-20
Preached on: Sunday, June 26, 2016
First Family Church
317 SE Magazine Road
Ankeny, IA 50021
Last week after the service, it wasn’t just Jenny that I was speaking to, Hugo had come to talk as well. Hugo was baptized here about two years ago. In the course of the conversation, it was apparent Hugo had been straying and so I just gently and lovingly said, “Hugo, man, let’s come back to the Lord.” He said, “You’re right.” And in those few moments, God not only regenerated and saved Jenny but he restored and brought Hugo back into sweet fellowship.
I love it, I love it, I absolutely love it when a sinner comes home. That’s not a dissing remark on Hugo. I came home one day, did you know that, 14 years old. God brought me home and restored me to himself in fellowship. First of all, in salvation he regenerated me, convicted me, brought me home, so to speak, brought me back to himself, my Creator. But at about 17 or 18, I had strayed a little bit and kind of just involved in some things that weren’t healthy and weren’t right, and in a youth group service kind of trip retreat, God just reached down and said, “I think it’s time we quit playing games,” and just brought me back home in that sense. Does that make sense? We call it rededication in our culture. We went home, it was like 1 o’clock in the morning we got back from the retreat and my mom and dad were sleeping and I went into their room, I knocked on the door and they kind of just groaned. I remember so vividly saying, “Hey, a new me is home tonight. No more trouble out of me.” I got rid of a bunch of things that were wrong, not right, changed my friendships, and never looked back since. But I love it when a sinner comes home. That’s kind of the gist behind Psalm 32, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.” Amen? This should cause us the right kind of emotion when we realize, “Man, God has brought me back.”
I was thinking this week about some of you have a similar story. I’ll mention a few names because I know they won’t mind. If you think you would mind, don’t worry, I won’t mention you. I know you well enough to know that if you would mind or not so don’t worry. One of our elders, Jamie A., a godly man, loves the Lord, serves in incredible fashion with this family, but there was a day he showed up at this church, we were making at Ankeny Christian Academy, far from God. Dragged there by his wife. And in those immediate services and through the power of God’s Spirit and the influence of his wife, God got a hold of Jamie and brought him back home and now years later Jamie is serving here as one of our elders. Isn’t that great? Am I the only guy here that loves it when God brings a sinner home? I don’t think so, amen? I think about Keith T., involved in just a situation that was difficult in front of our church, but restoration and now Keith leads and counsels and what a beautiful picture of a sinner coming home, amen? Can you say this with me, I love it when God brings a sinner home, don’t you?
This is the heartbeat behind the final two verses of James 5. Will you take your Bibles and find that? We’re going to finish up the actual preaching part of this series in James today and we’re going to look at what I think is perhaps the most telling sign that our theology is getting all the way down to our feet. What’s the largest indicator that what we know is actually affecting what we do? I think it’s when our heart beats like God’s because God is a missionary God. He loves to bring sinners home, and when we follow suit, when we mirror that heartbeat, man, we are showing probably I think at least in the largest way possible, in the most telling manner, “My theology is all the way down to my feet.”
My plan today is to kind of teach you these two verses. I’ll take a few questions at some point. You might want to text them in earlier than later in case I’m not sure when we’ll get to them. I’m going to sense how the crowd is and how we go through our text. We’ll answer some questions about this. I want to kind of give you the verses in a single sentence like we always do. That’s pretty normative here. I want to make us some applications. But my goal this morning, I’ll be honest with you, is not to be distracted by a lot of the things that we normally do, and they’re not distracting in that sense but I don’t want to just follow our pattern and say we’re done. My goal this morning is after teaching, answering questions and showing this text, is to ask you this simple question, I’ll tell you up front, I want you if you’re wandering to come home to God. Is that okay to say to you as your pastor? Does that apply to everyone? Probably not but can we be this transparent this morning to say, I doubt that all of us are home with God. I doubt that and you’re not here by accident. It’s not just by chance you happened to stumble into this auditorium in this old warehouse. You’re here because God’s sovereignty and providence brought you here and could this be the day that God brings you home? I would love that because, have I told you yet? I love it when God brings a sinner home, amen?
Let’s take a look at our verses, can we? He is finishing the book and he begins it, of course, in a very similar fashion to several sections of the book with the two words, what are they? “My brothers.” Yeah, he means by that my family, my sisters. It’s just kind of a way to describe the family of God and he’s going to now talk about bringing back people who have wandered from the family of God. I need you to keep this in mind, that I think there’s probably a geographical device in play here and what I mean by that is this: James is writing to people who have been dispersed from Jerusalem. You recall that, James 1? They are mainly Jews. They were probably in his congregation in Jerusalem initially. A persecution came, Acts 8, and they’ve been pushed out, they’ve been dispersed, they’ve been scattered. I think it’s interesting that knowing that geographically about them, he kind of takes that now and spiritually he says, “By the way, if some of you are actually spiritually scattered, I know you’ve been physically wandering, you’ve had to find new places to live, you’ve had to find new communities, new ways to earn a living, some of you have been mistreated by pagan Gentiles who have hired you at very low rates, they have treated you poorly and not paid you correctly, you’re in deep trials and you have difficult things, that’s because of this physical wandering.” But he kind of now says, “By the way, if anybody is wandering spiritually. I wonder how the Jews in that culture would have heard that? I just wonder because you know they were wandering physically. I wonder if it hit home a little harder? Like, “I know what it’s like to wander. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re just deviating.” And he’s saying, “Hey, is that happening to you spiritually?” This is kind of what he’s addressing here.
He says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth.” The word “wanders” means “to deviate; to step aside; to slip; take a detour.” And he means here taking a detour, deviating from the truth. Now, is he meaning here just the truth of this book or could it be more inclusive to mean Gospel truth in general? I think both of those are in play here. Yes, he means the truth of this book, referring mainly to how to respond to trials, how we speak in response to difficult things that come into our life, how we react to God, are we a friend of his or a friend of the world, and just a number of things he teaches here. I think he’s saying to us that truth is in play but I think and most commentators bear this out, he’s speaking here too about the Gospel truth in general. If someone is walking away, wandering away from what we know is rock-solid, he says this, “and someone brings him back.” So he’s speaking to the church and he says, “If you know of someone who is wandering from the truth,” the implication being someone that was previously in this body but they’re wandering away, “and then you bring them back, you turn them around.”
Let me pause there and say this about that wording because I can hear a lot of my friends in circles who don’t ever lay claim that they have anything to do with it. I get that. That we don’t turn people around, it’s all God. I get that. But don’t forget who wrote this book. James wrote it and James is a practical theologian, isn’t he? So James would say, “Yeah, it’s all God but guess who God works through? You. So, man, let’s get out there and bring them back.” He would say, “We are bringing them back.” And I know that we don’t bring them back but yet we do bring them back. Does that make sense? So as you read this, don’t talk yourself and weasel your way out of the application by saying, “Well, I don’t have anything to do with it. It’s all God.” Amen. It is all God. You’re exactly right but God uses people, his church, his body, to bring people back.
So James is addressing this really from the sense of like, “Are you living out what you know you believe?” That’s why I say that really this is actual conviction combined with compassion and either one without the other is going to be faulty. Did you know that? Our culture is high on compassion and low on conviction and it’s faulty. You can amen there. You can say, “That’s true.” We’re high on compassion, low on conviction, so it looks like I guess everyone’s always right. I mean, there is never a place to say, “Well, that’s actually wrong.” We’re high on compassion and low on conviction. Sometimes churches are high on conviction, low on compassion. James here beautifully blends them both. He says, “There needs to be conviction that you have wandered away, you have strayed from a standard, you’re deviating from something that’s actually right for all people of all time, but we love you and want to bring you back.” So the best theology is a beautiful blend of conviction and compassion. It’s living out what we know we believe, amen?
So I think this is a beautiful image in the book and he says, “If you know someone who wanders, deviates from the truth, they have strayed from solid doctrine and someone brings him back, turns him around,” the word can be restored, “let him know.” Now, we must admit something in these two verses, there is not a lot of pronoun precision in these two verses, okay? I’m going to be honest with you, I’ll tell you what I think the pronouns refer to and you’ll find another handful of people, men and women, who would say, “Well, I think the pronouns refer to something else.” We just don’t know on some of these fronts in these two verses. Is the “him” the one who is being restored? Is this what that person should know? Or is the “him” the person doing the restoring? We just don’t know. I’ll tell you what I think and it’s true for other pronouns. There is not a lot of pronoun precision here is what I’m saying. I’ll tell you what I think it means and kind of where I land on it, you can wrestle it out, either way, it doesn’t change the heart of the text which shows us the heart of God so don’t worry about some of these minor things. We talk about them, they are fun to kind of wrestle but it won’t change the real meaning, okay?
So he says this, “If someone wanders and someone brings them back, let him know,” I think he’s speaking of the person who brings him back. He is motivating the church to be involved in bringing people back; in living out what they say they believe, in conviction with compassion. So the person who brings back the wanderer should know that when you bring back a sinner from his wandering, two things happen: you save his soul from death and, again, here the word “his” I think refers to the one who is coming back from the wandering, some who believe the first pronoun refers to the wanderer would believe that perhaps this might refer to the person who does the bringing back. So you have a lot of different opinions. I think it refers to the wanderer. That “you will save his soul from death and you will cover a multitude of sins.” Now, again, let me just kind of give you some options here. In one sense you could say two things are happening here, right? There is this saving a soul from death and then there is this covering of multiple sins. But in one other sense you could say one thing is happening. He’s what? Bringing him back. Does that make sense? So bringing back is kind of described by two things: you save the soul from death and you cover a multitude of sins. You could say this really describes restoration.
Now, the minute I say that, your mind should be thinking, “Todd, if this is to the church and is about restoration and it’s about one believer at least in context bringing back another believer who has wandered away, who was initially with the truth, and yet they have wandered, it says here though that when that happens, the person who is brought back, his soul is saved from death. That sounds like salvation.” You’re right, it does. I mean, totally. I admit that to you. I’ve find this to be a serious conflict for me that I have wrestled all week with. This is a passage to brothers and sisters about our actions to other brothers and sisters who have wandered. I agree with that and yet the severity, the penalty, the consequence of someone who doesn’t come back doesn’t seem like it’s a consequence that’s like, “Well, you’re in just in a different, it’s a tough entrance to heaven.” This sounds like if you don’t come back, you will die eternal death. I think that’s what death refers to there. There are three types of death in the Bible: there is physical death when your body stops breathing and you cease to function; there is spiritual death which is what all people are before they are born again, Ephesians 2, we are all dead in sins; and then there is eternal death which is what lost people experience because they have rejected Christ and they will experience that forever. I tend to see this because of the word “soul” and the word “save” as eternal death.
So how do I balance these? I can’t. I’m kind of in an odd place on this text. I’m 80% confident he’s writing to believers about their responsibility to believers who wander and yet this really escalates our task. Could he maybe be saying this: that those who continually reject the truth, even when the brothers and sisters are urging them to come back, actually indicate in the long run they never were really born again? Now, that seems to be the typical answer for us pastors when we can’t explain something, we say, “Well, in the end that just proves they were never saved anyway.” We just kind of say that. That could be true. Could he possibly be talking about not just specific in-house restoration, but a larger picture as well that, you know what, there are times you’ll bring a wanderer back who was born again but there are times you’ll bring a wanderer back and they were never saved to begin with and they get saved and so you’ve saved their souls from death. I just don’t know exactly but I don’t want to miss this point: when you are involved in bringing a sinner back, James says you have done something – watch this now – internal, you have affected their soul; you’ve done something eternal, you’ve saved it from death; and you’ve done something external.
It says you “will cover a multitude of sins.” Now, that phrase is used a couple of times in the Bible. 1 Peter 4:8 in which he talks to the church and says, “Let love continue because when love increases you have sins will be covered, a multitude of sins will be covered.” Kind of the same phrase used. It’s kind of a horizontal verse talking about how we relate to each other. There is a forgiveness that happens in the body when restoration occurs that’s just very supernatural, it’s spiritual, like, “Wow, we’re getting along better because of God’s work of forgiveness.” This is also used in Proverbs 10 to describe the opposite of hatred, “Hatred stirs up strife but love covers a multitude of sins.” The implication I think from this phrase and this is where I might differ from some commentators, I think this is a phrase that kind of leans in towards the immediate horizontal effect of restoration, like there’s a pile of offenses going on. Someone has strayed. Maybe that’s why they’re wayward and they’ve created a mound of offenses and sins and difficulties, but when God brings a sinner home, not only to whatever degree this means, has their soul been saved from death but all those things that were so difficult, that were hard, do you know what? Love has covered over those and we’re getting along a lot better.
I think that’s really the gist of this text, that restoration has two powerful implications: you are freed and you’re forgiven and forgiveness should have a horizontal effect, amen? Man, we don’t walk around like sandpaper in the body, rejoicing that God has forgiven us. When we know that God has forgiven us vertically it affects how we treat people. That’s the whole point of the Lord’s prayer, isn’t it? When we realize how God has forgiven us, we’ll forgive others. So I think what he’s saying here is this, when you are involved in bringing a wanderer back, two incredibly important, significant, eternally powerful things happen: you save a soul from death and you cover a multitude of sins. You affect that person eternally and you affect that person externally. Their relationships, those things that are in the way, they’re going to be covered over. Love will build a bridge that nothing else can.
This is the result of someone bringing back the one who is wandering which brings me to say this, that when you look at these two verses, this is actually what James is trying to highlight because the imperative in these two verses is the phrase that begins in verse 20. Look at it with me, would you? You can see it on the screen behind me or look in your Bibles, “let him know.” What James is saying is, “If you’re in the body and you’re watching people wander spiritually, deviate from doctrine, you’re watching this, go after them because here are two really great things could happen.” You need to know this. He’s driving home – watch this – correct thinking and theology that’s backed up by the right kind of living. Know this, two really great things happen: you save a soul from death and you cover a multitude of sins. You are involved in restoration when you bring back a wandering sinner. Know this, church, with the implication being what? That we should now do this, amen? That’s what’s going on here.
That’s why I think the closing of this book is so beautiful. James is calling for us to move and have our feet involved, our hands involved, our heart, our voice, our eyes, our ears involved in probably what might be the greatest thing Christians do and that is to reach out to those who are wandering just like God reached out to us. It’s a living out our faith. It’s a wearing our theology well. You see, I believe this, that true belief beckons others to follow. That’s why I don’t believe people that say, “Well, I just keep it to myself.” Now, if by that we mean we’re not going to be impolite at the wrong time or discourteous or a jerk, I can get along with that, alright? But there is no such thing as closet Christianity. There is no such thing as secret discipleship. At some point, all of us who truly believe will reach out to someone who doesn’t whether they have wandered from the church as a true believer or perhaps maybe they’re actually not a believer. We think they are, we don’t know, but at some point, every true believer’s heart should be and will be moved to those who are wandering. I think this is really one of the key ingredients of the Great Commission when Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The heartbeat of God is multiplication, reproduction, bringing back people. That’s the heart of our God and here James just specifically says in the church when people are wandering, have the heart of God and go after people who are straying.
One other note before I give you the take home truth and take a few questions, I asked myself the last couple of weeks: what is it that we do to bring them back? Maybe you’ve asked that question. I think if you read through verses, you know, questions come to mind. I kept thinking: what is it we do to bring people back because in one sense, you could say he never says, does he? He just kind of assumes that if someone brings this person back but he never says what you do. Could it be perhaps that in context, the main thing we do is pray? You’ll find that the preceding verses are about people who are in difficult situations: some are sick, some are sick because of unconfessed sin; some are, the word there is to be bent over; some are weary and discouraged, and what is James’s first admonition? To pray. Call for elders to pray. The church should pray for each other. Confess faults and pray for each other. So I got to thinking: I wonder if in all of our ideas about bringing the people back, if we’ve accidentally unintentionally overlooked the best one which is to pray for people?
Question for you on that side note: are you praying for people who are backslidden? Now, I’m going to get on some thin ice for a moment with gladness of heart. Are you ready? Most churches, this is how they operate, you kind of see someone who has not been there for a while and so you say to someone on staff, “Hey, have you seen So-and-so lately?” The implied meaning being, “You should call them.” And I gladly embrace my role. I don’t know if I can call every single person that fits in that category. We need help because we have a lot of people, but did you know that actually you can actually reach out to them as well? Did you know that? This is not a club that we run that has a president, this is a body of which Christ is the head. He qualifies men to oversee as elders and we serve the body and together we hold each other accountable. That means if you’re sitting somewhere and you haven’t noticed So-and-so in the last three or four weeks, call them. You can let me know. That would be great. But I might say to you today, I might say, “Hey, why don’t you give them a call? Why don’t you drop by their house?”
Now, does that mean they’re backslidden? No, but what if they were? What if they were starting to wander? What if they’re starting to drift? It may just take a simple question like I asked Hugo last week, “Hugo, that’s not right. Man, you’re drifting.” And he just said, “You’re right.” Now, that was convenient for me. In one sense, he was here. He came to talk to me. We chatted. Do you see my point here, guys? This set of verses and I’m just going to be really transparent with you here like I always am, but I’ll be painfully transparent: this is not a verse necessarily to pastors. As part of the body, I want to come under that authority and do it, okay? I want to row the boat, dig the dirt, lay the bricks with you. I don’t want to be the kind of pastor that sits in an ivory tower and says, “Don’t bother me. I’m praying all day.” The word and prayer is what we do but, man, we want to rub elbows with our sheep and we want to be normal and with you in the trenches. But this verse is not written to pastors, it’s written to the church and did you know that you have as much responsibility and potential for impact as anyone else here to bring back a wandering sinner? The problem is most, many of us I should say, don’t realize that, but you do. So I want to ask you: are you praying for and looking for those in this body who potentially could be wandering?
I was so proud of a few of our families, this is several years ago, someone did begin to wander from the truth and they could see the slide happening and they began to engage in this family and in a faithful, loving way, in a conviction with compassion kind of way, they engaged this family for months, even years. To be frank with you: they have not been brought back, but I was so humbled and proud of these families who did not let this sinner stray without an effort. Amen? They never once said to me or to our elders or someone else, “You should. You should.” They let us know. We prayed. We helped but they owned, because they owned that, because they were the ones closest to it.
Can I speak to our small group leaders? You’re on a break for the most part right now, it’s summer. Can I encourage you to look well to your smaller group and if folks begin to stray, lovingly, with conviction and compassion, speak to them. Say, “Hey, how are things going? Are you okay?” Because when you bring a wanderer back, do you know what happens? The Bible says you save a soul from death and you cover a multitude of sins. That’s a lot of good things happening, amen?
So regardless of where you land on the pronouns, regardless of perhaps how you see the phrase about saving a soul from death, are they saved, are they unsaved, how you answer all those questions doesn’t change the heart of the text. The heart of this text shows the heart of God. He loves to bring people home. God loves to bring people home.
Here’s the take home truth. Take a minute and jot it down. I’ll read it for you first and then I’m going to have you read it with me, but here’s really the gist of what these verses say to us and how James concludes his epistle: that my theological conviction should lead to relational compassion, for that kind of shoe leather impact has internal, the word “soul,” eternal, the word “death,” and external, the word “cover.” It has internal, eternal and external results that are good for the church. Yeah, a wanderer comes back home, amen? And they glorify God because God is seen as the one who restores and takes care of his church. So this is what James is saying, this is how he’s closing his epistle, to live out your beliefs in what I think may be the most telling way of all. Reach out to people who are wandering. Develop belief that beckons others. So read it with me, would you? Here we go. My theological conviction should lead to relational compassion, for that kind of shoe leather impact has internal, eternal and external results that are good for the church and they glorify God.
I’ll make a few applications in a moment, but first are there any questions that may have come in? We’ll take, let’s go with two or three if we can.
How do you think these verses fit into the context with prayer? I think James in his mind may be saying this, “The best and first way to bring a wanderer back is to pray for them.” I forget which old preacher said this, Don, you might can jog my memory, but he said, “Talk to God about people before you talk to people about God.” That’s a good little quote, isn’t it? I think that’s some good advice for us. Do you have a strong list of people that you’re praying for? Up in our office, there’s a board that has white cards, they’re called our white harvest cards. I’ve always hoped that we’d fill more of those out as a church. There are not a lot up there, I’ll be frank with you, but they are names of people that you’ve given us who are away. They’re wanderers. Some are lost, some are backslidden. But it’s right by where our staff walks by a lot and we just pray for those names. We don’t put out where you can see it, we don’t post it or print it or publish it, but we’re praying for people who are away from God. So I think that’s how these verses fit in the context that perhaps the best way you can bring back a wanderer is to pray for them.
Let me pause here and say this. This would probably fit with how Moses led the children of Israel, alright? Exodus 32, I believe it is, it may be 30 but it’s in that range, the golden calf. Aaron dropped the ball as the assistant. Moses comes down and he sees the wandering, the idolatry of the Israelites. He does deal with the situation and talks to Aaron but the very first thing he does is he intercedes with God for the people because if you recall, God was pretty much kind of done with them and thought about destroying them and Moses goes to bat for those people. He intercedes and says, “God, let’s bring the wanderers home.” And there were some severe consequences, there were penalties, but Moses’ first action was to pray to God for the people who had strayed. So perhaps James is thinking, “Okay, here’s how the church should posture itself in times of difficulty, in prayer. So if someone’s wandering, yeah, that’s the best time to pray for someone when they’re wandering.”
Good question. Let’s take one more, can we? What do we as Christians do when other Christians tell us we need to accept such sin as homosexuality? I’ll answer that briefly instead of getting into the entire week of conferences about it because that’s a huge topic, okay? But I would say, let’s take two words in mind and that is: conviction with compassion. I would just say those two words, three words I guess, conviction with compassion. Just say, “We don’t make the rules. If you see the Bible differently, I guess that’s your prerogative. I think it’s a wrong way to see it.” God seems pretty clear in Romans 1, that passage alone is enough to hold us and tether us to orthodox doctrine and orthopraxy which is orthodox behavior. Romans 1 is enough to ground you, but homosexuality is a sin. If they disagree, just smile and say, “I’m sorry you don’t see it that way. I’m sorry you disagree.” Hold your conviction but be compassionate, alright? Is there a lot more to that conversation? Sure but the question was what do we do as Christians when others tell them to accept it? Just say, “Well, you don’t need to accept it because we don’t write the rules, we don’t decide how the game is played.” We just simply declare and proclaim and love and live and so we’re going to love and live and to declare and proclaim in light of what is true and then just pray for God’s Spirit to empower you to live that way, alright? That’s a huge question with a ton of answers. I’m just going to let that suffice for now and know that there’s a lot more that I would want to say and could help with but time would not permit us to divert to that topic today.
Is there one more, Ryan? What practical ways do you bring a wanderer back? After the initial call, what kind of things do you say? Let’s let this question lead into our application because some of what I’m about to say to you answers this question, okay? What do we do practically after praying that helps bring a wanderer back? Here’s the first thing I would say to you: check your own eye for a log before you go trying to inspect the speck of the wanderer. Is that clear? Any question about what I just said? Any ambiguity? No. One of the worst things that could happen is, you know, I mean, you’ve got Facebook posts that show clear idolatry and sin, you’re like a party animal, and yet you’re going to someone saying, “Hey, you know, I’m concerned about this part of your life,” and they could just pull up a simple feed and say, “Hey, look at your life.” Yeah, Facebook tells us a lot, doesn’t it?
By the way, Facebook might actually tell you who’s wandering. Can I be that blunt with you? I love being friends with a lot of you. I love it actually. It’s the best prayer list I have. And a lot of times I do look at some of your feeds and I’m like, “Man, that’s not a good thing. That’s a scary situation. That’s a dangerous relationship.” And I pray for you because I sense you’re hedging, you may be wandering. You’re playing loosely with things that are dangerous. You’re letting sin kind of take root and set up a camp of operation. It just needs a little square inch and it’ll take a square mile and have your whole life.
So I would say the first thing to do is to look at your life and say, “Okay, if I’m gonna make a call, stop by a home, I’m gonna make a visit, I’m gonna speak to someone about a situation, how are things here?” And then when you do make that call, make that visit, have that conversation, be very humble, okay? Admit you’re in process as well. Sanctification is not complete.
Thirdly, I would say this: try to be very specific. I wouldn’t lump, you know, everything all together, just try to say, “It seems like there’s a situation that I want to ask you about. It seems like there is something I want to talk to you about.” And just try to zero in on one thing. I’ve discovered that when people come and talk or I go to see them, if I zero in on one thing and just try to humbly and compassionately and pastorally address one issue, they’re more than ready to share more. Did you know that? They’re quick to kind of unload the wagon. That’s what I’ve discovered. And then it’s them sharing and them talking about why this happened. It was because this person did this or I had this pain from this situation, and usually things are connected to things in their past and there is a lot of hurt from a situation. There is a lot of connection, spider webs going on. But I would start humbly and I would just start very specifically.
I don’t know, though, that answering this question with some things like that really is our problem, and I just want to kind of lay this before you. I don’t know if there are 15 to 20 or 100 of you saying, “Man, if I just knew how to do it, I would go.” I don’t think that’s our problem because I tend to think when you have a deep passion for something, you do it anyway and you kind of figure it out as you do it. Did you know that? When you know God has called you to whatever the thing is, fill the blank in, when your passion, when your sense of like, “God has asked me to do this,” like in this case, “God has asked me to care for wanderers, to help bring back sinners,” you’re not going to wait until you get it all perfect before you go. You’re going to make the call and you’re going to just take the change. That’s what I think. I think that shows the heart of the person. I don’t think our problem is that we don’t know how to do it, I think the problem is that we don’t really think we should do it.
I think we’re low on compassion sometimes. We sit in our same seats. We’re so busy, have such little margin, that we rarely think of other people. Our schedules dominate our lives. I’m preaching to me and you, by the way. That I don’t know that it’s how, I think sometimes we have lost the passion of a missionary God. I say that to you as your pastor, as one of your pastors. I think sin blinds us. I think sin desensitizes us to other people and so when we’re wrestling with our own idols, we’re grappling with our own sin, the last thing we want to do is try to help someone with theirs.
So all of that combined, I tend to think sometimes it’s not a matter of how do we do it, we just don’t have the deep-down want to. Is that why James ends his book with this imperative? “You guys should know this.” He doesn’t address how to do it necessarily, he just says, “Guys, two awesome things happen when you go after wanderers: you save a soul from death and you cover a multitude of sins. Let’s go after wanderers.” That’s kind of what’s happening here and so I plead with you. I love you. Our family, man, we’ve grown to just live life with you. We do love you. Many of you are not wandering, hallelujah, but can we together just admit that perhaps our hearts sometimes aren’t as warm to wanderers as they need to be? And I’m okay if you go after a wanderer and it doesn’t go well. Hey, I’ll back you 100%. At least you went after a wanderer. Let’s not just sit in our Lazyboys with a remote, drinking Diet Coke and eating popcorn while folks are wandering. That’s all I’m saying.
In fact, let me just kind of share with you some of the ways that I’m going to…I’ve talked to our staff, at least some of our staff, I should say, just a couple of staff about some things we’re going to do in this room to help bring the sense of coming back to a greater priority. This will maybe make some of you upset and today the need might not be seen as clearly because we’re pretty full today in some sense, but we’re going to actually remove a few chairs. Did you know that? If we need them, we’ll bring them back in the fall. We’re going to take some chairs out and we’re going to try to scoot you in a little closer so that you sense we’re home, we’re a family. Can I say to you honestly, I don’t want you to feel like you’re on the outer edges of a service. I want you to feel like you’re involved and in the service. When we’re singing and worshiping, I want you to feel like you’re singing, not watching others sing, and sometimes our seats are such that someone feels like there’s a gap between the bigger crowd and maybe the outer crowd. I’m watching those folks as we have the service and let’s be honest, people in America, we love to sit in the back, we love to be able to kind of get out when we need to, and we’re going to adjust some seating and you’ll see it next week. After VBS, we’re going to take the chairs out for a little bit. When they reposition the chairs, we’re going to kind of do some things to where maybe we’re a little closer and a little tighter? Why? Because I want you to sense and know that we’re here your family. Kind of like an Olive Garden concept, okay? Can we go with that, you know?
Now, am I calling someone out as sinning because you’re sitting on the outer edges? Not at all so Jay and Christy, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong, okay? Mark and Cathy, we’re good. There are some legitimate health needs. Jim S. sits by the pole every week. He needs the pole to pull up. We’re going to leave some of the back sections for young expectant mothers, those with new children, so if they need to get out they can. There will be some places for health needs but can you hear the heart of your pastor for a moment? Will you not worry about logistics in American culture when you hear the heart of your pastor? I don’t think it’s always the best situation when we just sit in ways that maybe people are sitting by themselves or they’re alone. I think it’s good to kind of scoot you in and say, “Hey, we’re a family and you’re home, and if you’re not, you need to come home.” That’s kind of what my heart’s thinking. It’s just a logistical way to try to drive home this verse. In fact, it might be good for some of you to sit near some people that you don’t know, to warm your hearts towards people in your spiritual family.
So, yeah, some of you won’t like me much next week. I’m okay with that because I want you to get to know some people. I want you to actually sit near someone who actually may be thinking of wandering. Maybe in a greeting or in a conversation afterwards you’ll meet them and somehow God will use that. You’ll say, “You know, I should call them back this week. Things just didn’t sound the best.” So I’m going to do some things here as one of our leaders to kind of facilitate that. I hope you’ll hear this well and see it well. I hope you’ll come back. I want you to but the church is not designed for your comfort. Did you know that? The church is designed for God’s glory and this verse tells me that when we act as a family and come together and love people and bring people back, that brings glory to God, it’s good for the church, so I’m going to do what I can to kind of squeeze us in a little bit, alright? And I hope you’ll be good with that. If not, see Chris and Carlos.
Let’s expand those circles a bit. You live in neighborhoods where there are people who are wandering. Now, many of them would say they’re Christians so I think technically and textually you could use this verse to go after them. Are they? I don’t know but I think many of us are not only comfortable in our church, we’ve kind of got our seat, got our place, don’t bother us, we’ve got our routine, in and out real quick. I’m trying to kind of push against that for a bit, okay? We not only have that going on, we also are comfortable in our city and do you know that our city is full of people who are wayward from God. Now, do I love Ankeny? I do. I love living here. I love this town. I pray for it. I pray for our leaders, our board of education, our elected officials. I think God sovereignly placed me here 20 years ago to plant this church. I believe that deeply. I have no intentions of going anywhere. My feet are firmly planted as long as God leaves me here. I love this city but did you know our city needs God? And God reaches people and neighborhoods and cities through people like you. Our town has doubled since 2000. There were 27,000 people here in 2000, as of 2016, the latest estimate is that Ankeny has 58,000 people. The median age in Ankeny is 32. I guess I’m considered old. You’re getting there. The highest population percentage are 30-39 year olds. Below that, I think it’s 18% of Ankeny is 30-39. Below that, 16% of Ankeny is 0-10.
I say all that to say this to you: this is a town where God has placed you. If you live in Ankeny, it’s a town where our church is, for sure, and while we want to have a ripple effect, I don’t want to overlook the very first place God has put us. And you live around a bunch of people who have kids and more than likely – hear this well and you can record it, you can post it, you can repeat it – more than likely their kids are their idols and they’re way in debt trying to make those kids happy. That’s Ankeny. Get to know some of them and live with conviction and compassion and just rub shoulders with them and let God use you to bring a wanderer back.
You see, this is a heart that I’m after. Within our church, within our city, within the globe, it’s the heart of God that says, “I love to bring sinners home.” All week I’ve been singing this song, “Come home.” Some of you older than 40 know it. “Come home. You who are weary, come home. Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling.” Sing it with me, “Calling, O Sinner, come home.” I love it when God brings sinners home. What do you say we work with God and follow suit?