Going For the One

Have you ever lost something valuable to you? Maybe you have misplaced your wallet or keys. A few weeks ago Kelly and I were leaving for a meeting. As we started out, I couldn’t find my wallet. In a panic we rushed around the house looking for it but we couldn’t find it. It seemed like a thousand negative thoughts were floating through my head. What if I left it at the store? Or what if it fell on the ground when I filled the Jeep with Gas? Then I thought, “Oh no! what if someone finds it and uses my IDs and bank cards to steal my identity?” Finally, after what seemed like hours of searching and wild ideas, I remembered the last place I saw it was in the house.

So we decided to look for it later and leave for our meeting so we would be on time. As we were traveling, my thoughts continued to race trying to figure out where I could have placed the wallet. Finally, it came to me! I was filled with joy, relief, and somewhat embarrassment as I told my wife, “Honey, I remember where the wallet is. I left it in my pants which I hung up in the closet.”

My wife was amazed! However, not that I remembered where the wallet was, but that I actually put my pants where they belonged.

Maybe you have lost something of value in the past. A wallet, keys, or maybe even your child as they wandered off to look at toys while you were shopping. There is nothing that will send you into panic mode more quickly. On the news stories of missing people are reported all the time and often their loved ones spend a lifetime looking for them.

In Luke 15:4-7 Jesus has a crowd around him and he begins sharing a story about something that was lost. The story goes:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Now Jesus’ story was in response to Pharisees who didn’t like the fact that he was teaching about the cost of discipleship to tax collectors and sinners. To them hanging out and eating with those types of men and women was a big “No-No”. Some theologians believe their attitude came from a Rabbinical rule which stated ‘Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him to the Law’ (Mekhilta).

But Jesus wants them to know that their desire to please God is misguided. The story of the lost sheep is a reminder that God want us to have the same heart that He does for those who are lost or gone astray.

So what is God’s heart towards those who are lost or gone astray and how can we have it?

While this passage is filled with a lot of “meat” there are two things that stand out about how God sees others and how He wants us to see them.

First, God heart is filled with relentless love and compassion for those who have wandered off or are lost.

In the story Jesus starts with a piercing question. “Who among you, if he has 100 sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

Cattle in South Sudan

In our culture, we may not understand the passion behind this statement – unless maybe you are a farmer. The closest I can relate to the concept is when I came across cattle herders several years ago in South Sudan. As we were walking past them some of our team members started taking pictures of the majestic long horns.

The herdsmen immediately saw it as a threat and came up to us yelling. As best I could gather they thought we were going to try and steal their cattle. The cattle were very valuable to them and we found out later the cattle were very valuable to them. As they yelled I thought to myself, “Oh man, a fight was about to break out.”

However, when they realized we were not a threat they continued on. But not after one ripped a water bottle out of my hand. Looking me in the eye, as if to say I can take what I want – he took a giant gulp of water. His eyes then got giant as he just found out what I already knew. The water was hot and nasty. He spit it all out and threw the bottle on the ground in disgust.  This broke the tension as we all had a good laugh and smiled at each other as they continued to their destination.

I imagine this is the same passion Jewish shepherds have about their sheep and all those who heard Jesus’ story could relate to it. Sheep were the main source of income for the shepherds and they often created a bond with the sheep. Shepherds gave the sheep names at birth, helped mend them to health when sick, and helped them with the birth of their ewes.

In Timothy Laniak’s book, “While Shepherds watch their flock”, he shares several stories of shepherds he interviewed. One in particular was about a man name Ahmed. Ahmed shared with joy how he had not lost a sheep since 1984, if one wandered or was lost he would look for it until he found it dead or alive.”

However, Timothy says that as soon as Ahmed shared his accomplishment he began to be filled with emotion. Ahmed then recounted the one lost sheep that he never could find. He said he could never forget it. He remembers her every night before he goes to sleep.” Even though he had thousands of animals over the years, he felt shamed as a shepherd that he could not account for the one that was lost.

In scripture, God is often represented as The Shepherd. Isaiah 40:11 makes this reference about God:

“Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”

In John 10:11, Jesus also refers to himself as the good shepherd:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

The story of the lost sheep gives us a glimpse of God ever actively searching for the individual that strays. God is not content to let even one go. Instead, He leaves those who remained in His pasture to look for the one.

God is passionate about His sheep. He searches relentlessly for them. He is constantly looking until He finds it – He will not give up until He succeeds.

This relentless love and compassion is seen in Jesus’ mission statement found in Luke 19:10:

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.”

 The passion of a shepherd is what God wants us to have. A relentless love – that never gives up on those who have gone astray or are lost.

Jesus tells us we should love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

In society, the definition of love has been changed to tolerance. However, we can tolerate people with no love or care for their well-being. If a person is destroying their life, tolerance tells us it’s okay as long as they are doing what they want. It is their right, do not get involved no matter how much damage they may be causing themselves. Unless they are a danger to others you shouldn’t intervene.

However, God’s word has a different for love. It is a relentless love.

A relentless love that compelled the God of the universe to offer His son to the cross.

A relentless love that went against society norms and sought out the unwanted or misunderstood.

A relentless love that endured rejection of his friends in order to save them.

A relentless love that endured being brutally beaten for our sins.

A relentless love that endured being whipped for our healing.

A relentless love that never gives up hope for those who have gone astray.

A relentless love that never stops searching for the lost until they are safely home.

And ultimately, a relentless love that gave its life for another.

Let us never stop searching for the lost and never give up hope on those who have gone astray. As long as they have breath, there is hope.

Secondly, God heart is filled with joy over lost sheep who are found.

A young lamb leaping into the air.

In verse 5, after the shepherd finds the lost sheep, he doesn’t beat the sheep, call it names, or give it a stern lecturing. He shows no sign of anger. He could have been searching through treacherous terrain for days, months, or even years for the lost sheep and have every right to be frustrated or angry. Instead we are given a picture of how happy he is. Filled with overwhelming joy he places it on His shoulders and joyfully brings it back.

When we go astray and get lost, we often cause harm to ourselves and to others. The pasture that we wander off to that looks so much greener than where we currently are becomes a place of chaos, pain, and confusion.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life when I was the lost sheep. In those times there was no way I was going to make it to safety on my own. I have been broken financially, mentally, and emotionally, in no condition to make my way back, but just like the shepherd in this story, God put me on His shoulders and carried me back to safety. He brings the sheep back to safety in His own strength with exuberant affection, out of necessity, as the poor lost sheep is helpless.

The shepherd is so overwhelmed with joy that he calls all his friends and neighbors to share his joy. He cannot contain it and invites others to rejoice with Him. The joy then becomes a community event, where they all rejoice in the salvation of the sheep!

God wants us to have the same joy. He wants us to understand and share in the same love and passion he has for His creation.

When the Pharisees complained about Jesus teaching and hanging out with the sinners, they didn’t understand why. They saw them as unclean. However, Jesus saw them for who they were – God’s creation. How easy it is for us to look at the actions of others through ungodly eyes. We forget that all people are God’s creation.

How often when we are driving down the road and the person cuts us off do we think, “Wow look at how wonderfully and fearfully God created that person?”

Or what about the person who goes into a school and begins shooting. In our anger and compassion for the victims, we forget that the person shooting was God’s creation also. That they are likely a deep seeded rejection or pain that they drives them to such an awful and horrendous act. God loves that person and wants them healed and delivered just as much as the victims of their senseless act.

As we seek to love others with a relentless love, we have the chance to bring them out of harms way by sharing love, hope, restoration, and freedom to them before their pain and loneliness drives them to release their anger on others. This passion can save them from the danger they pose to others and themselves. This is the hope God has called us to.

Just under two years ago my father transitioned to heaven. My dad and I didn’t always have a good relationship. In fact, after my parents went through an ugly divorce, my dad moved away. He never told us where he moved to and we presumed he was hiding from my mom because of the divorce. He call wanting to talk to her hoping she would help change certain results of the divorce, but the conversations stressed her out. Because of the divorce, she battled deep depression and had several strokes. So she asked us to tell him to quit calling her.

Because of this, there was an eight-year span where I did not see, speak to, or even know of where my dad lived. In spite of this, my wife and I continued think about him, pray for him, and though my mom was unaware we continued to look for him. We finally found out where he lived and traveled to see him. Excited and nervous we picked up chocolate covered cherries for him because we knew they were his favorite.

During our visit, he began to share with us how he thought we were mad at him because of the divorce. He believed that we didn’t want anything to do with him, but the truth was we just thought he was hiding from us.

After all the time that was lost, we found out that he wasn’t hiding from us, but was in deep pain. He felt rejected and shame and thought we didn’t love him.

We comforted him and reminded him that we loved him and we thought he was mad at us. There were tears of joy! Over the next few years my dad and I built a deep and strong relationship. Kelly was just as excited, if not more, at the restoration of the relationship.

We, just like the shepherd who has found a lost sheep, should receive the lost sheep with joy and excitement. Helping to restore them and encouraging them as God restores the relationship. As we walk beside a brother or sister who has fallen and is being restored, we not allow our biases or preconceived ideas bring us into judgement. Instead, let us follow the example of the shepherd, who rejoices at the fact that what was once lost is now found.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

So who has God placed in your path? Is there someone whom you have been praying for over a long period of time and you have lost hope they will return? If so, then don’t give up. Is there someone you have lost contact with through a strained or broken relationship that God wants to restore? Then seek them out like the shepherd who never gives up until the sheep is found. Who has God placed in our lives that He wants us to love them so radically that the world thinks we are crazy? Never stop going after the one!