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FIRST-PERSON: Rescued from hell and high water

PLANO, Texas (BP)–On Aug. 29, just days before the fourth anniversary of 9-11, another attack came upon America — not by terrorists, but by a powerful hurricane. Hurricane Katrina crippled the Gulf Coast with its potent winds and unrelenting surge. Katrina has taken the lives of more than 1,000 people, and in ways that we can’t even imagine, its survivors continue to struggle with the prospect of starting over, having lost everything they know and love.

In the aftermath, however, we have come to know the stories of both tragedy and heroism. One high school senior, Billy Rhoads, from Point, Texas, joined firefighters as a volunteer so that he could go to New Orleans and help. He joined, in part, for the excitement, and also to fulfill an obligation for a course he was taking in high school.

But what happened to Billy Rhoads in New Orleans changed his life forever. What he saw, heard and experienced was more than enough to change his perspective on life. He said he would never forget the hands of little children reaching through rooftops and begging for someone to rescue them, the bodies seen floating in the water, or the woman who handed him a bloody pillow that held a dying newborn baby.

Again and again, this young man was profoundly changed, saying, “I will never take my life for granted. Even now I still can’t sleep because I hear the screams of people crying out, ‘Help me! Help me!’ As long as I live I will never forget the screams.”

Katrina didn’t affect just the poor. A woman on the other end of the social economic scale survived the storm’s surge by climbing on her roof and hanging on to a tree. “I just want to get my life [back],” she would later say.

There is a desperate sense of urgency in these times. How many people do you know who feel as though they have been ripped apart by a storm in life? As believers, we know that there really is only one way to fix our brokenness. We must seek the one who specializes in helping people get their lives back, and His name is Jesus — the Way, the Truth and the Life.

People can only do so much — but God can heal all the hurt and pain of those who feel like they’ve lost it all. After the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, it is important that we not forget the urgency of spreading the message of Christ to the lost, helpless and hopeless of humanity.

In Mark 2:1-12, we find the story of four men who sensed this urgency to bring others to Christ: “They came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying” (Mark 2:3-4).

It is here that we see a spiritual breakthrough. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son your sins are forgiven you’” (Mark 2:5). And when Jesus later commanded, the man “immediately … arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2:12).

When the man was brought before Jesus, Christ went right to the heart of the issue and forgave his sins. People are sick with sin. It paralyzes physically, spiritually and emotionally. And every person needs someone to help get him or her to Jesus to find hope and healing.

We watched the news as helicopters circled New Orleans and rescued many from their rooftops. God is now sending out rescue workers, in these times of emergency and urgency in the nation and around the world, to bring the broken to salvation in Christ.

The fact is that almost every believer came to salvation because someone introduced him or her to Christ. Any church that does not have a heart to bring people to Christ will die a thousand deaths. Christians lose their reason to exist when they resign from the business of helping men, women, boys and girls come to know the Lord.

On that day in Capernaum, the helpless man wasn’t the only one coming to visit the Lord. In the crowd there were also the critical — those who wanted to prevent this man from coming to Christ; the curious — those who wanted to be entertained; and the carnal — those who selfishly blocked the way so as not to let the man into the building.

The critical, the curious and the carnal surround us today. But this is not the time for criticism; it is the time for compassion. This is not the time for anger; it is the time for action. And it is not the time for carnality; it is the time for caring Christians to press on in their passionate attempts to follow God’s agenda and bring others to Christ.

Oswald Chambers, the great devotional writer, said this: “Beware of worshipping Jesus as the Son of God and professing your faith in Him as the Savior of the world, while you blaspheme Him by the complete evidence in your life that He is powerless to do anything through you.”

Don’t blaspheme God by thinking or saying that Christ is powerless to change somebody’s life through you. Don’t be part of the curious, critical and carnal crowd. Instead, be a woman or man of faith — just like the four men in the story.

When Jesus sees our faith, miracles happen. Faith releases the power of God and puts us in a position to receive from God what He desires to give. The four men believed that if they could get the paralytic man to Jesus, He could change everything.

Do you believe in Jesus like that? Or are you part of the curious, carnal and critical crowd? Do you have a passionate desire to bring those you love to Christ? Is your faith so strong that you know beyond a doubt that if you will just help bring those who are lost to Jesus, He can change their lives?

I am very grateful for the way Southern Baptists and Bible-believing Christians have responded to this most recent disaster. God is using caring Christians to minister compassion through good deeds which glorify God. Even more, let us work and pray that many will be brought to Jesus through our personal and intentional witness of the Gospel.

It takes the contagious, cooperative and creative faith of those who are willing to pay the price to make a difference. What our hurting world needs are followers of Jesus Christ who care enough, love enough and have faith enough to get hold of the stretcher, grab a piece of the rope, rescue them from hell and high water, and bring them to the healing and saving power of Jesus Christ.
For more information on Jack Graham, visit www.jackgraham.org. The website contains Graham’s sermons in audio and video format, as well as an online store with resources. Visitors also can sign up for “A Daily Word from Pastor Graham.”

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  • Jack Graham