Having the Heart of a Rescuer
Having the Heart of a Rescuer
by Lonnie Lane
I spent four days last week with a human rights activist who works to defend and rescue persecuted Christians around the world from dire circumstances. It was a life changing experience, I can tell you. This person’s life is largely about the well-being of other persons often to a threat of his own life. You don’t rescue Christians in a Muslim country without some challenge to your own well-being. Yeshua said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). How about if you risk your own life for people you don’t even know personally, just because they are in trouble and they’re your brother and sister in the Lord? That verse takes on a whole new parameter, doesn’t it? At least it did for me.
For one thing, it stirred within me an imperative to be praying for the persecuted church around the world. Persecution comes in many forms. Some are held captive by ignorance and prejudice, as satan uses harsh religion as his substitute for loving relationship with God. Too many others are held captive behind prison walls by those who use violence in attempts to turn the hearts of God’s faithful ones away from Him. But He keeps them by His Spirit. Having been there Himself He knows how to comfort and strengthen those who are His!
I have a new appreciation for how knowing God makes us more like Him, yet yielding to satan’s ways, makes people more like him. Persecution makes it clear who belongs to One or the other. To be honest, I hadn’t really given more than cursory thoughts to the persecuted church before. At least not as I am seeing them now. Not since these persecuted ones took on faces and personalities and I learned what some of them have endured specifically, including my friend.
This change took place around the occasion of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. A good time for a new perspective. The days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are called the Ten Days of Awe, the time during which we are to look into our lives to see where we may have been displeasing to God and repent, a time when we see how we might live a more pleasing, more righteous, more loving life before God in the coming year. It is, to the Jews, a time when it is determined by God whether you are worthy of having your name written in the Book of Life for another year. But praise be our God of mercy and grace who has already included us in the Lamb’s Book of Eternal Life, if we’ve given our lives to Him. Now that’s cause for a whoop, a shout! Or, a humble bowing of our heads in gratefulness. Maybe both.
As my friend told his stories of rescuing precious people of God from persecution, which often included horrible torture, including being tortured himself for his faith, he didn’t leave the story there. He wasn’t trying to stir emotions of sorrow and pity, though of course there is some of that. More like shock and horror when you see or hear what actually takes place. His motive was to show how great our God is, and how faithful Yeshua is to know each one and what they’re going through and to be with them as their “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1). The stories don’t focus on the torture, but on how God strengthens them, and touches them with hope when hope seems lost. These were stories, in the end, of joy and thanksgiving to God. They weren’t stories of how strong the enemy is against God’s people, but how powerful and loving God is. These were victory stories. Even if someone were to die in these testimonies, there is still victory because “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54). As someone else I know said about possibly being threatened with death for his faith, “Go ahead; threaten me with heaven!” That’s not a threat. It’s a ticket to ultimate joy in the presence of the Lord Himself. A release from limitations into the fullness of His love.
And there is forgiveness! My friend told of how you can forgive your enemies when you experience torture and it
“But in Yeshua, once forgiveness comes for your enemies, so does God’s peace.”
allows you to taste some of what Yeshua went through on our behalf. He endured the pain and the shame in order that we could be forgiven. You can forgive your enemies, and even feel compassion on them for how deceived they are, knowing what they don’t know about the horrific unending torturous destiny in which they will be imprisoned forever if they never come to repentance in this life. Bitterness or unforgiveness would keep people in torment even if they’d been freed from the persecution. But in Yeshua, once forgiveness comes for your enemies, so does God’s peace. My friend told of a freedom of the spirit that only Yeshua can bring.
I remember meeting Richard Wurmbrandt once many years ago. He was a Jewish Lutheran pastor who had been in solitary confinement in Rumania under Communist Russia for 14 years for his faith. He forgot there were colors. He was all but dead when he was ransomed by a collaboration between Messianic Jews and some of the church in Norway. I heard him say that true Christians will always forgive their captors, just as Jesus did. And having met those who were with him who were just recently released from the Gulag, it had to be true because these people’s countenances were radiant! (See Ps 34:5).
I got to thinking this week about my own very tranquil life in comparison. No threats, no deprivations, no fears. Not really. And I got to thinking about bringing people to the Lord, asking God if right here in my own sphere of influence there are people who are imprisoned in torment of fear or tortured by demonic oppression, if not political persecution. What about those who are imprisoned in their own bodies, who can’t walk or talk or take care of themselves. They may desperately need someone to remind them God is still with them and loves them. Obstacles came to mind. I saw how simple practicalities can get in the way of my helping someone.
As I thought about this, a man in the Bible came to mind, a man we call, “the paralytic,” the Mark 2:4; Luke 5:19 man who got lowered through the roof by his friends. You remember him? (He’s not a paralytic anymore, hasn’t been for generations — why do we still call him “the paralytic”?) Well, he had those who took him to Yeshua. While they may not have risked their lives, they did go beyond their own comfort to bring him before the Lord for rescue, to give him back his life. Did the man want to go, I wondered. I’ve heard sermons about his faith, their faith, him wanting to go and asking to be taken. As I pondered the situation, the following story presented itself to me and so I present it to you.
It’s not a story about religious persecution, but it is about a life that was trapped in the physical prison of his own body while he was also “persecuted” by guilt and a great sense of great failure. He had no picture in his mind of being free, not anymore. But others did. If others hadn’t taken the trouble to bring him to Yeshua, there would be no story like that one and he would have died in his misery, in a life few knew about. But we know about him even today, because of the caring of others. It makes me wonder how many testimonies of Believers there are in the world that have encouraged us or strengthened us, all of which came about because someone reached out to them to help, or bring them to the Lord.
Perhaps this story will show you how God seeks to encourage us that we each can make a difference in setting someone free in some way. There are opportunities all around us. Lord, open our eyes to them! We can bear the burden of carrying people spiritually in prayer and in friendship until they are in the place with God where He can set them free and they can walk on their own with Him. Isn’t that what the Gospel is really all about? In a sense, that’s what discipleship is. Babies, human babies, can’t walk on their own till we teach them how and be their support till they can do it themselves. The same is often true with spiritual babies. I’m of the opinion we often leave new Believers to fend for themselves way too often and too early. Perhaps the story of this man and those who carried him to the Lord will stir you to be aware of helping someone learn to “walk in Him.”
I experienced something of Yeshua I hadn’t seen quite the same way before this past week. I see Yeshua as the
“I see Yeshua as the Ultimate Rescuer. He has saved us to be one with Him, which is to be one with His heart. And His heart is to rescue.”
Ultimate Rescuer. He has saved us to be one with Him, which is to be one with His heart. And His heart is to rescue. Didn’t He rescue you? He sure rescued me. He takes us out from under the tyrannical yoke of satan to slip His yoke upon us instead: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29, 30). As we see something new in Yeshua, it has the effect of causing us to become more like Him. Perhaps you too are seeing at a deeper level His heart as that of the Ultimate Rescuer with whom we are yoked. We’ll not all be human rights activists, but we can all be mindful of the needs of our sisters and brothers and share His joy in helping them. Praying faithfully for the persecuted church around the world is also having the heart of a rescuer.
For now, here’s the story of the man who is (no longer) a paralytic. It’s written kind of poetically, you may notice. A different kind of cadence than my usual writing. It is my hope that you’ll never read this Bible story the same way again and that it will inspire us all to do our part and then come on up on the roof and let’s watch Yeshua do a miracle! Here’s the man telling his own story.
I had forgotten what it was like to walk, to be able to care for myself and go where I wanted, to run through the village and into the meadow where the sight of softly swaying stalks of sun-drenched grasses fill your heart with light. I’d forgotten even what it was like to walk across the cool shuttered rooms to the kitchen to join with my brothers, and any others who were there, eating eye to eye. They brought me my food upon a tray and set me where I would not be in the way. My brothers carried me, them and my friend Ya’acov who still reminds me of when we played tag among the trees and scooped tadpoles from the trickling stream, or told each other stories until the fires turned to glowing embers.
But everything was different today. They gave me no choice, ignoring my voice of dissention. I had no say. Today, they say, we are gong to see the Healer, that Yeshua, the one from Nazareth. Miracles, they tell me, and their voices ring with excited intentions to make me one of them. I don’t want to go, I tell them. But they are so sure. And since I cannot get off my bed I was borne along in dread to the destination the others had determined for me.
Crowds of people barricaded the door with no intentions of letting them carry me in. Though I begged to go home, I knew they would win over my protests and my pleading would fall upon deaf ears. Then I heard cheers from within the house: “He hears! He hears!” as someone was freed from a life of deafness by this Yeshua, this healer from Nazareth. Always somebody else, I thought. I swallowed the familiar sense of failure that had been my daily bread ever since that day. There is no way, not anymore, I told myself. I’ll have to pay and live out my days upon a litter causing others to bear this bitter task — me as the burden they have to carry.
I was shaken from my self-absorbed reverie and jostled on my bed as I was lifted high above their heads. My brothers, who with uplifted arms pulled me with ropes they found somewhere, up into the air, past the windows, clearing the cross beams to the roof above where Ya’acov was waiting. There I settled with a thud. Then I wondered — would being this high make me any closer to God? Would He even give me a nod? No, not me, I knew. God was through with me after the way I’d been on that day.
As Ya’acov secured the knots in the rope, my thoughts came back to them and their hope. I marveled that they’d done it, and that they’d cared for me so much that each played their part in bringing me here. But the thought of further failure caused me to fear that I would disappoint them again, and panic came to my now pounding heart. Now what? I asked them tentatively, afraid of what they intended next, concerned they would ask something of me I could not give them. But they knew what I was unable to do. They knew all too well without my having to say it. Almost as well as I they knew my limitations.
Then dirt was flying here and there and I was tasting dust. I could only watch as they dug a hole in the roof after lifting off the thatch. Oh, how I wished we were miles away. “Hey what’s going on?” shouted someone from below. Now there surely was no way I could make them go. If only I could jump off this bed and fly away. But where would I go? I’d have to go home. Oh no. I didn’t want to go home, back to my meaningless prison. That was a given. It was clear. I’d have to stay and see this through, whatever my brothers and Ya’acov were determined to do.
Then with the ropes they lowered me upon my bed to just in front of the Man who stood and said something about how much faith my brothers had to be so determined that they’d bring the lad to Him through a hole in the roof. He seemed not annoyed but delighted, even touched by this act of what He called courageous faith. I knew I’d have to face whatever was about to take place. He bent down to talk with me at my level. I thought I’d feel ashamed. But no, It was His eyes…! His eyes What color were they? I cannot recall, for all colors seemed to be at home in Him, as if in His eyes, He Himself was also everyone else… and even me. I can’t explain what I seemed to see. And then, He looked into my own eyes as if He saw the very core of me, and said to me, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
At this the crowd grew quiet. Deafeningly silent. But I was not concerned with them. I could only try and grasp what He just said. Forgiven?! The words ricocheted around my head. My thoughts came so quickly. Suddenly I was back on that day, when my poor choice had sent me hurling way down an emotional ravine that left me reeling and so devastated I could hardly move. How could I have allowed it? I was so weak and powerless against it. Afterwards, I had lain there in my misery so long in darkened silence that when I tried to move I couldn’t. And since, even the thought, even a flicker of remembrance of that day brings me such dismay that it has kept me paralyzed inside, as if a part of me has died and the rest of me is in mourning, and unable to rise above it.
But He said, “Forgiven.” How can a man forgive me of my sin? He can’t do that. He’s just another man. But I looked again into His eyes… His eyes! And I saw reflected there myself as if my sin was absorbed into Him and His very being. I cannot tell you how that could be, but suddenly I knew I was free and that it was true. I knew — I was really forgiven! As if my sin had never been. That day no longer had control of me. And I was free to live again!
While I was still trying to process what had happened and have it all make sense, some angry discussion arose among some men lined up against the walls who were wrapped in their prayer shawls. Seeming to ignore them, Yeshua then said, “So you will know that the Son of Man can forgive the sins of men…” then He looked at me again and said, “Son, take up your bed and walk.”
I had been so overwhelmed and awed that my guilt had fled I had forgotten I was still upon my bed. I looked inside myself for the usual dread and for the hopelessness, but they were gone. Carefully I bent my knees and slowly stood upon my legs, which no longer felt like useless pegs. Straightening up, inch by inch, I felt the strength grow in my limbs. I reached for His arm to steady me but He had already reached for me, to be there as I needed Him until I stood erect.
The crowd cheered, at least most of them, though the ones in the prayer shawls, as I recall, scowled as if He’d done something wrong. But I didn’t listen for long. This was so right. This was so good. And from where I now stood I lifted my arms to my brothers and Ya’acov above who peered down through the roof. They had watched it all looking down from that height and now they were cheering with all of their might.
With a love I’d never known before I gave praise to my God and great thanks to Yeshua. “Pick up your bed and go home,” He said. I realized I’d still forgotten the bed. I did so and made my way outside to Ya’acov and my brothers who met me and with a joy like no other, we laughed till we cried. I ran into the sunshine. I was running! All on my own! Then I shouted, “To God be the glory! Come on, let’s go home.”
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2009.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.