It must have been about 2 in the morning when my sister's screams woke me up.
Fire!! Fire!!! There's a fire outside!
When I bolted out of bed I saw that she was pointing out my bedroom window to the makeshift shelter I had made for some sick calves.
It was completely engulfed in flames.
Running outside to turn on the water at the pump house, all I could think about was how I didn't want to see what I knew I was going to see. These poor little sickly calves we had bought were dressed, that fall morning, in little sweatshirts. (Yes, I suppose all homesteaders start out as honyockers.) I imagined that they had somehow knocked down their heat lamp and it wouldn't have taken long for the straw to catch on fire. In an attempt to block out the cold, I had positioned straw bales in front of the door; blocking their exit from the inferno. All I could think of was getting the hose to them in hopes of easing their discomfort and hopefully even saving one if I was quick enough.
Recently I was telling The Cowboy that I think our mission field is actually the American church. I told him that I feel like I'm in a house with folks sleeping everywhere - the bedrooms, the couches, even the floor. Like my sister years ago, I can see the glow of the fire, hear it crackling, even - but I can't get hardly anyone to wake up. I shake them, I scream out a warning, I run from one sleeper to another - to little avail. Some won't waken. Some waken and can't see the fire. Still others waken, see the fire, but don't care enough to do anything about it - especially because they figure that their family is safe inside the house.
As I was reading David Platt's Counter Culture, that scene came to mind again as I read this passage:
When we observe our churches today, do they look like groups of people who gather with one another as they give their lives to spreading the gospel among unreached people, impoverished communities, abandoned orphans, lonely widows, dying babies, sex slaves, and suffering brothers and sisters around the world? Sadly, I don't believe that's the picture we portray. Instead we spend the majority of our time sitting as spectators in services that cater to our comforts. Even in our giving to the church we spend the majority of our money on places for us to meet, professionals to do the ministry, and programs designed around us and our kids. What in the world are we doing? Or better put, what in the Word are we doing? We have filled even the most Bible-believing churches with so much that is not in the Bible. I can't help but wonder what might happen if we put aside our personal preferences, let go of our extrabiblical (and in some cases unbiblical) traditions, laid down our cultural comforts, and organized ourselves solely and sacrificially around God's Word and gospel mission.
We are experiencing multiple wildfires in the Pacific Northwest right now - one not far away in the community in which many of my family members live. Thank goodness numerous firefighters have responded to the call to risk their own lives to save not just the lives of others, but even their property. How much more important are souls? What if 90% of those firefighters responded to the call for help by saying, "wow...what a neat rescue mission...but, our family has a vacation planned"? What if they couldn't be bothered to turn off the TV or put down their smartphone? What if they figured that others had more time to devote to fighting fires...or that they could do that when they retired?
Ridiculous. I know.
And yet this attitude is prevalent in the American church.
Somehow we've watered down, "whoever wishes to be My disciple must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Me" into "please show up to church on Sunday when you can and don't forget to drop a check in the box outside."
This - this total perversion of what it means to follow Christ - will result, I believe, in one of the scariest scenes in all of Scripture.
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" (Matthew 7:21-23)
We're not talking about the fate of unbelievers here. We're talking about believers. And we're not just talking about pew warmers, we're talking about those who prophesied - or brought God's Word to others...those who performed miracles and exercised God's authority over demons - and they will not enter heaven. Jesus declares He doesn't even know them. Why?
Because they did not do the will of God.
This will absolutely come as a shock to some, but God never commanded that you go to church every Sunday. He never commanded that you take your rotation in the church nursery or make your kids go to VBS.
He wants so much more than that.
He wants you. Every bit of you.
He wants you to deny yourself - not just for an hour or two on Sunday, but every day. Every hour of every day.
He wants you to sacrifice yourself. He's not just asking you to die to yourself, He's asking you to participate in your own undoing by picking up the cross on which you will die and carry it.
He wants you to actually follow Him. Not only to gather with the saints to worship (though He does want that)...but to wash their feet, to bathe their wounds, to feed, clothe, and house them.... Jesus didn't just go to the beautiful places, the religious places...He went where the hurting, the messy, and the lost were. We're supposed to follow Him there - to bring aid and, more importantly, the good news of eternal life.
Are you wondering what happened to my poor, leppy, sweatshirt & Vicks wearing calves? Amazingly their self-preservation kicked in and they were able to knock over the bales of straw that outweighed them considerably. When I got to the fire and put it out, they were huddled in the corner of the outside pen, petrified and cold. But they were alive. Because my sister saw the fire and woke me up, they were alive. Because I got out of bed even though it was cold and I figured the poor calves were already dead, they were alive. Because there was a greater cause than my own comfort and wishes, they were alive. (Until we ate them. But I digress.)
Think of how many lost will be saved - how many dead will be made alive - if only we who call ourselves Christ-followers will do the same.
I suspect most who started reading this post didn't make it this far. This is a wild rant from a crazy God-lover. But I had to try. Consider this me screaming:
Fire!! Fire!!! There's a fire outside!
There's so much to do. We can vacation later. Saving souls is way more satisfying than weekends at the lake, hours of television watching, or season tickets to your favorite sporting event or other entertainment. On that great and terrible day, I really don't think we're going to wish we spent less time caring for God's beloved and dragging them away from the fire and more time being entertained or indulged.
Don't get me wrong, depending on the situation, I don't think that recreation or leisure is wrong. However, if the primary reason I engage in those activities is for my own pleasure - rather than an opportunity to serve God - or if I my pleasure ranks higher to me than God's mission, it's time to seriously reflect on God's Word and my obedience to it.
Look! Look out your window. Can't you see that glow threatening your neighbors? Your family? Yourself? So, let's grab our gear and go. There's so much to do - so many in need of the love of Jesus!
Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, oh hold them back. If you say, 'See, we did not know this,' does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? (Proverbs 24:11-12)