All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. Isaiah 53:6
A man is thinking about leaving his wife because she is difficult. He is correct. She is a very harsh woman. But we pray together, and I listen, and he stays with her.
Another man tells me of a pornography addiction that has escalated into group sex with strangers and random sexual encounters with men. I listen and pray with him for weeks and months; I give him Biblical wisdom about such things and I meet with him as long as he is willing.
A woman has an affair with a co-worker and the husband finds out. My wife and I spend hours, days, and weeks meeting with them. I get calls and texts in the middle of the night for months from one or both of them because their hearts are on fire with pain and betrayal. We pray, listen, give counsel from the Bible. We declare to them both that we will walk with them all the way to a marriage of restoration. They stay married.
A man comes to faith in Jesus, I baptize him, and I spend hours drinking coffee and teaching him the basics of the Christian life. We pray together, we talk, and we walk together for months and then years. He grows and grows in his understanding of the faith.
Two young couples with their kids come to church and declare that they have found the church for which they have been looking for all their lives. We pray together and enfold them into places of services within the Church. Their children grow and learn about Jesus.
Another family joins the fellowship and begins to serve in the church. I meet with the man for coffee hours and yet he and his wife begin to drift apart and he begins to date a married woman so I ask him to take some time off of serving in the church until he settles his marriage status. I pray with him and show him the teachings of the scriptures about divorce.
A man who is addicted to pornography comes to me and asks if I can help him. I say I will help with him until there is a complete restoration of his soul. I pray with him and show him what the Bible says about lust and intimacy. We meet weekly for months.
A recovering alcoholic and I meet for coffee and great conversations about life, Rock and Roll music, and Jesus.
A woman and her daughter begin coming to our Church and breathe such a sigh of relief at finding a safe place from which they can recover from a toxic church relationship. They are enfolded deeper and deeper into the Church and begin to serve. The younger woman was having difficulty getting pregnant. So, we pray and pray and pray for the couple to conceive and give birth to a healthy baby. We pray for the husband to begin to attend Church. He begins coming and is faithful to come even when his wife is too ill with morning sickness. He begins to serve in the Church. A healthy baby is born to this lovely family.
A middle-aged couple begins attending and starts serving at the Church. I visit them in their home. We have them in our home. We pray with them.
A single mother and her daughter attend and serve. I go to her place of employment with the horrible news that her father has suddenly died. I carry her in my arms to her car and drive her home. My wife and I pray with her and love her; care for her.
A man comes to Church for years without his wife and daughter. He serves faithfully in a vital place of ministry at the Church.
A couple comes to our home to share several meals, she sings on the worship team, and at one point he tells his wife I am a false preacher and fake Christian.
And now I must stop. For the tears are flowing and the pain is deep. In a span of eighteen months, they all left a previous church. Some attend other churches; prettier and sexier churches. Others just don’t go to church anymore at all.
But I know their names.
The movie The Guardian gives an inside look at the Coast Guard’s highly successful but little-known program of Rescue Swimmers. The men and women of this elite team are called upon in a moment’s notice to drop from helicopters and plunge into storm-tossed seas in order to rescue those whose lives are in danger.
The instructor, played by Kevin Costner, is a legend among his peers, and stories of his quiet heroism haunt the self-confident upstart. Fascinated, the protégé, played by Ashton Kutcher, discovers there is a number that the instructor keeps in his head, a number he assumes to represent the people he has saved over the course of his career. Several times he tries to pry it from the man, but it is not something the instructor wants to talk about.
He becomes less focused on himself and more on his team members. Shortly after he graduates from the program, he visits his instructor, and they talk over beers. The young protege, Jake, asks the instructor a question,
“Hey, there was a question I wanted to ask you back at school, but I didn’t. When you can’t save ’em all, how do you choose who lives?”
“It’s probably different for everybody, Jake. It’s kind of simple for me, though. I just, I take the first one I come to, or the weakest one in the group, and then I swim as fast and as hard as I can for as long as I can. And the sea takes the rest.”
Jake then presses him.
“What’s your real number?”
The number is much lower than Jake imagined. “22? That’s not bad. It’s not 200, but . . .”
“22 is the number of people I lost, Jake. The only number I kept track of.”
I have to go now; the Good Shepherd is calling. One of His sheep is in trouble and, as you probably know, sheep don’t swim very well.
It is hard to understand …. I have often wondered how Jesus must have felt after Judas’ suicide. He is the man the church loves to hate, but I think Jesus must have loved him very much. I imagine that the kiss of betrayal may have been more painful than the nails or the spear. Many people seem to want Jesus (and his representatives) for some purpose of their own. Perhaps they see faith as a means to an end. At any rate, your faithfulness is what must remain.