By Emery B. Barber
“Help me! Save me!” I cried out as I hung from the ledge of the roof of an old two-story office building. I was only twelve years old and about to lose my grip and possibly my life.
“Don’t let me die!” I pleaded.
Cornell, the biggest and strongest one among our group of friends, rushed back to me on the edge and assured me, “I got you Em! You’re not gonna’ die! Just grab my hand!”
When I was a little boy, my dad would take my family to the drive-in theater to watch the latest movies. The Adventures of Sinbad were among my favorites. While I never recognized any relevance in his name at the time, this young thief who stole from the rich and gave to the poor found himself destined to gain riches as he fought rulers of darkness to liberate the people. With the messages I had learned from the Holy Bible as a backdrop, the message reinforced to me that God could use anyone to do great things.
Influenced by this narrative, my friends and I would go on “dangerous adventures” looking for “lost treasure” in the ruins of Brownsville, at that time a depressed area in Brooklyn, New York. Early Saturday afternoons, after we had finished our chores, we would prepare for our journeys by using our allowances to purchase candy, chips, soda, and Italian bread heros for nourishment to aid in our quests.
As we walked through the ruins of our own “lost city,” we were thrilled to discover the most beautiful stones – some right on the surface, but most just beneath. On one occasion we had to scale the side of a building to get a better view of the land. Everything within me cried out against this endeavor. I kept recalling my mother’s words as I left that day: “Don’t get in any trouble, Emery! Stay with your friends and be safe.”
Yet reluctantly I soon found myself scaling the side of the building with my friends. The treasure that I’d found that day was heavy on my shoulders in my backpack, but it was safe. Clinging to a pole for dear life and trusting the grip of my Pro-Ked sneakers, I advanced upward. Finally, we made it to the ledge of the rooftop. We were safe. But then as my friends continued forward onto the roof, they shouted, “Don’t look down!”
Of course, I looked down. When I did, I panicked, lost my footing, and slipped off the ledge. Somehow I twisted enough to just catch the edge with my hand. Hanging on for dear life, that’s when I shouted, “Help me! Save me!”
Cornell told me to grab his hand, but my “treasure” was too heavy to allow me to reach up. Holding my hand securely, Cornell ordered me to let my treasure go and grab his hand with my other hand. I hesitated, mostly because I was afraid to even move.
“They’re only rocks, man! Let them go!” he yelled.
As I allowed my treasure to slide off one side of my back, I was able to reach up and grab the ledge with my other hand.
Again I begged, “Don’t let me die!”
“Just reach up,” Cornell commanded. Reaching for the collar of my jacket he began to tug. With every ounce of strength I had left, I reached up again and grasped his waiting hand.
He yelled, “Pull!” and I could see our other friends pulling on Cornell as he painstakingly hauled me up. At last I was safe and sound.
I’m amazed at how vivid this memory is to me even after so many years. This episode of my life greatly impacted my spiritual formation because one day God extended His “hand” to me and said, “Let go. I’ve got you.”
Although most people will never have an experience like mine, many don’t know they are in greater peril than I was and what it means to be saved. God extended His “hand” to humanity and said, “Let go! I’ve got you!”
Jesus the Christ, our Savior, communicated with complex simplicity the gospel, or good news of our salvation, when He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV). Many reach for their truth while others find it difficult to grasp the actual Truth that is reaching out for us all. Nonetheless, those of us who have reached up and taken His hand walk this Christian journey saved by His grace.
It is interesting to note how the Lord uses our experiences to elucidate His Word for our lives. In today’s post-church culture a growing number of people feel the Church is no longer needed because salvation is for everybody (period). Recently I asked a colleague of mine if he was saved and he answered, “We get it already! Jesus died for the sins of the world! We’re ALL saved. So instead of running to church every Sunday, singing songs, and hearing the same messages on TV, we can give our offering to the cable company so there will be content on our TVs, and we can get to this abundant life that Jesus came to bring to us. What’s the problem?”
I stood there punch-drunk from the blows that came from his mouth – from his heart – amazed that he grew up in church.
I asked again. “Are you saved, Joe?” He informed me that he had been baptized as a baby, went to Sunday School every Sunday, sang in the church choir, and attended retreats every year. After college he was busy working so he could pay off his college loans.
“Are you saved, Joe?” I asked once again.
“Saved from what?” he retorted in frustration. Finally he admitted, “I often wonder. I’ve been religious most of my life. I always assumed I was saved but never felt sure.”
God extended His hand to Joe that day and said, “Let go. I’ve got you!”
The beginning of the Gospel narrative is “For God….” Everything we think and do should be to the honor of the One who had us in mind when He formed the first representative of humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into him and he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). After Adam had become acquainted with the new creation he was to steward and had named every animal, God created Eve, a suitable partner for him. Not only did the couple have relationship with one another but also with God.
God gave Adam and Eve power to nurture and maintain or to starve and sever their God-given lifeline. When God gave them the ability and privilege to choose, He gave them the power to obey or disobey God. Disobedience would cause them to miss the will of God for their lives marked by His Word. And that is what sin is, missing the mark of God’s intention, will, and plan for our lives. The penalty of their willful disobedience was physical, spiritual, and eternal death. But God, in His loving mercy, sent Jesus, the only begotten of the Father, to, in the words of an old song written by Ellis J. Crum, pay a debt “He did not owe,” because “we owed a debt we could not pay.”
The challenge for many is understanding who gets to have this awesome gift. God so loves the world, so it must be the world, right? The Gospel of salvation is potentially all-inclusive and conditionally mutually exclusive. Yes, God loves those He created, but the problem is that original sin caused a fracture, not only in the relationship with God but also on the image of God on humanity. The penalty of separation from God meant humankind would be continually born in sin and shaped in iniquity. We are born with the nature of sin and have a proclivity to think and act in ways that drive us further and further from God (Psalm 51:5, John 8:21, 24). No longer God-centered but self-centered, we are in need of a lifeline.
You see, as long as I was hanging on to that ledge in my own strength, I was depending on myself. And I was failing miserably! Holding on to “fool’s gold” nearly cost me my life. Similarly, it is foolish to cling to the carnal desires of this world that will perish when we can put our trust in the only One who is able to keep us from falling and present us to God faultless with exceeding joy (Jude 24-25). We gain access to that lifeline by faith through appropriating the gift of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross by believing that God has lovingly extended His Hand – the Way back into loving fellowship and oneness with God – and repenting of our sin.
To repent is to change our focus and dependence from self to God. Repentance points to the call of God for humanity to turn from the sin nature that so easily ensnares us (our “fool’s gold”) and return to our original high place in Christ Jesus to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to love and serve God and those God loves.
Wouldn’t it be cool if every journey began with the destination? Absolutely not! We would miss the lessons learned along the way. I know for a fact that you have tried like Joe and me to figure out this journey called life and tried to live life like Frank Sinatra who did it his way. When you discover that you too are hanging from a ledge and death seems imminent, look up and know that God has already extended His hand to you. He is saying, “Let go. I’ve got you!”
Then do your part, like Joe, me, and countless others. Let go and take the Master’s hand. You too will be safe and sound.
About the Author
Emery Barber serves Open Bible East Region as a board member-at-large with an emphasis on cultural applications. He pastors the East New York Branch of Shepherd’s House Open Bible Church in Brooklyn with his wife, Stephanie. Emery also serves Marketplace Chaplains as a chaplain coach. The Barbers are the privileged parents of three beautiful children.