For the Love of a Lost Sheep Wandering Astray

Parables are simple stories illustrating a moral or spiritual lesson. Jesus loved using parables to teach lessons. The Scriptures, primarily in the Gospels, contain many of these stories that Jesus told.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus called the poor and needy to salvation. Many Gentiles fell into this group of people. The Gospel writer Luke had a keen interest in them. In contrast to the rich and affluent, the poor and needy are the largest target group of the Gospel.

Parables compare two things. Jewish rabbis had used parables to hold an audience’s attention while illustrating an important moral point for centuries. Jesus uses them to teach his disciples, the religious leaders, and the crowds that gathered around him. Jesus did not start out teaching parables initially but turned to them once many rejected him as the Messiah.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus performed many miracles, demonstrating to those who witnessed them that He had the power and authority that only God could have. In a way, parables are miracles in words.

You might recall from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13, that at one point the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke to people in parables. And he responded by explaining to them that he wanted to share a new revelation about the Kingdom with the disciples—the believers—but not with the multitudes. Many had rejected Him. His message was intended for those who believed or who would believe. Therefore, Jesus chose to use parables to share these insights in a mysterious way—demonstrating that God knows what will happen in the future.

Mysteries are secrets that the Lord shares with the Elect—those He has chosen—like the Disciples and those who believe in Him. Jesus was revealing some of God’s plans concerning the future of the messianic kingdom, but He was not allowing the unbelieving multitudes to understand these plans.

As believers, God’s truth is revealed to us in a way that unbelievers cannot understand. Like the Apostle Paul, the scales have been removed from our eyes, freeing us from our spiritual blindness. Once we were blind, but now we can see.

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Luke 15:1-7 (ESV)

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them.

3 So he told them this parable: 4 What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

God rejoices when the lost are found.

Being a shepherd was one of the most common occupations in Palestine during Biblical times. Small farmers often had a flock of 100 sheep. It was also the norm for a shepherd to count his flock at night before calling it a day. In this allegorical vignette, the herd of sheep were hiding in plain sight, grazing or resting in open country. The lost sheep in this parable was lost due to its own foolishness, not because the herd was hard to find.

Knowing one of his flock had gone astray, the shepherd heads out to find his lost sheep. Upon finding his lost sheep, the shepherd is not angry or upset. He does not scold the sheep. HE REJOICES. In the same way, when we like sheep have gone astray, God rejoices when He finds us, rescuing us from harm.

I don’t know about you, but I can relate to that foolish sheep who wandered away from the safety of the flock shepherded by God. I wrestled with sin a longtime before coming to believe in Jesus and repenting from my old ways. This doesn’t mean I don’t stumble. It certainly doesn’t imply that I am perfect in any way. No, I am still in the process of being perfected by the Lord. But, I am no longer lost. I am on the right path.

We don’t find God. God finds us.

The sheep was lost. The shepherd did not wait for the sheep to find its way home, but went out to secure it. God pursues those He has called. He doesn’t wait for us to find Him, but He finds us. God initiates the personal relationship we have with Him. He calls to us through the Holy Spirit, drawing us closer and closer to Him.

Neither Terri or I were looking for God when He called us. We had dated eight years before we ever had a conversation about God.  It wasn’t until we took a horseback ride up a mountain near Taos, New Mexico that we both felt the presence of God in our lives. This is not to say that God hadn’t spoken to us before. He had. But this time was different. This time, we listened and answered His call.

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God cares for those He saves.

The mental picture of the shepherd carrying the sheep home on his shoulders resembles Jesus loving care of those He saves. It is a picture that would have been familiar to the shepherds living in that rural area. It was something they themselves had done numerous times. In the same way shepherds care for the sheep in the flock, God cares for each of us whom He saves.

You’ve heard the saying “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Being separated from God seems like an exercise in futility. With God, we find our purpose. With God, we gain peace and understanding. With God, we know real love. Does that mean we won’t face trials or tribulations? No. Not at all. But we don’t go it alone. As believers, we go with God. He is with us wherever we go.

The Lord Delights in the Saved.

The ninety-nine righteous people are the self-righteous Pharisees and lawyers, challenging Jesus and His authority. Jesus was using the term “righteous” ironically. These so-called religious leaders were only righteous in their own eyes, not in the eyes of the Lord.

The Lord delights with joy over one sinner’s salvation and He grieves over the 99 lacking salvation. Only those who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved and enter into Heaven—or the presence of God.

Before God, our lives were completely different. Our “why” changed once God became part of our daily lives. That’s how we knew we had changed direction and were now on the right road, walking with God, no longer straying off the path.

I am glad that God rejoices over the saved. I am filled with joy knowing that He delights in me. I hope you can say the same.

May the Lord bless you and shine His favor on you.

Acts 2:21 (NIV) And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.’

Romans 10:13 (NIV) for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”

Photos courtesy of Pixabay.

What Am I Doing?

God’s timing is not my timing. Frankly, I don’t know what God’s calendar looks like. I don’t have access to it via a supernatural internet portal. I do know that none of us are promised tomorrow. Perhaps that’s why Scripture encourages us not to worry about yesterday’s spilled milk. Yesterday is done and gone. There’s no do-over in life; only repentance and forgiveness.

Having placed our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we make a conscious effort to turn the course of our life around. We commit to living differently today than we did yesterday. We strive to be kinder, gentler, and humbler.  We submit to God’s will and His plan and are grateful that it includes us in any way, shape, or form. We strive to be more faithful.

We don’t deserve to be included in God’s plan. Grace and mercy aren’t spiritual entitlements. Yet, God freely offers us grace and mercy. We can’t earn them. We can only receive them and having received God’s gift we can only pass it on so that others might know the reason for our new-found optimism. Being redeemed, we desire to imitate and model Christ so that other’s can see the light of life that shines in us because of Him.

We don’t know what the future holds either. Life is truly but a vapor, just like Scripture teaches us it is. We’re here one minute and gone the next. If the last several days have taught me anything it’s to cherish every moment. Love God. Love others. Better.  Deeper. Stronger.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31 (ESV)

Our pastor, Jeff Miller, captured many of our thoughts accurately when he delivered the sermon Sunday. Our hurting, grieving congregation screamed at God from the depth of our collective souls “What are you doing?” Reeling with inexplicable pain that crushed our hearts last week, we were hurt, angry, frustrated, and confused due to the completely unexpected passing of our beloved friend and Worship Pastor. We felt blindsided. We were caught off guard. But we know at the end of the day God is still good. Indeed, God is good all the time and all the time God is good; even in our heartache. He is still worthy of our trust. He is still faithful. Therefore, my focus shifts. It’s not “God, what are you doing?” that I need to ask but in clear view of experiencing a life lived well, I must ask a different question.  What am I doing? That’s the question now.

From the ashes beauty will rise just as in the darkness a light continues to shine.

As I mentioned earlier, it starts with loving God and loving others better, deeper, and more strongly than I did before God called my dear friend home. The guest speaker at Mark’s funeral was right; the world was better with Mark Walton Jones in it. But God called Mark home. Our friend is now celebrating in Heaven. Mark’s work here on Earth is complete. Mine remains unfinished, incomplete. I still have work to do. So do you.

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In the days ahead, I pray and hope to share the Gospel more boldly, more readily, and more frequently than ever before. I pray and hope that my words minister to those who are still lost and lonely and those who feel they are the last and the least in this often times grim world we inhabit. I pray that I can write a story that glorifies God and reaches people for the Kingdom. I hope that I can shine at least a fraction of the light my friend shone in his brief time here on Planet Earth.

As I ask God what He is doing, I have no choice but to look in the mirror and challenge myself and ask, “What am I doing?”

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We are not promised tomorrow. We only know tomorrow will come. We do not know when Christ will return. We only know that He will return.

In the meantime, ask…

What am I doing?

Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

Mark 12:29-31 The Message

Finding Hope In A World of I Don’t Care

The other day while Sweet T and I were sharing the love of Jesus down at the Center of Hope women’s shelter, we both had the opportunity to visit with a homeless family that we’d met there on a previous trip Downtown. 

Pamela, the 71 year old family matriarch, her adult daughter Heather, and Pamela’s grandson Nathanael have been homeless several months now since they lost their apartment. After a number of life events happened causing them to get behind on the rent, they found themselves drowning from the sheer financial weight of trying to keep a roof over their head. 

You’d never know from his big grin or joyful laugh that Nathanael suffers from cerebral palsy and spends most of his time confined to a wheelchair. Nathanael is filled with tremendous joy; a gift he undoubtedly gets from his mother and grandmother. 

Yes, their faces reflect the troubles they face but their countenance exudes confidence that comes from an unflinching faith, even amidst the hardships they face. They are a tight knit family of three, determined to see each other through this rough patch. 

Nathaniel’s father isn’t presently in the picture, too busy grappling demons of his own. 

What follows below is a poem Pamela shared with us and that she’s given me her permission to share with you. 

Living on the streets, Pamela sees a lot of things that give her pause and cause her to contemplate the world that surrounds her. She meditates on big things, recording her ruminations on any scrap paper she can rustle up. 

This is not the first difficult time she’s endured. She is determined to persevere and share her faith with a lost and fallen world in need of a Savior. “Trust in Jesus,” Pamela would readily tell you. “The Lord won’t never let you down.”

Here is her poem “Hope in a World of I Don’t Care”, shared with her permission and encouragement.

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Is there any hope out there in a world of I don’t care?

Is there any hope out there when people are too busy going from here to there?

Is there any hope out there where all kinds of violence occurs everyday and everywhere?

Is there any hope out there when social media and cyber-bullying is so rampant in our schools all around the world?

Is there any hope out there when and where hatred and racism are more prevalent today than yesterday?

Is there any hope out there where there are too many homeless people in the streets who don’t have a place to go in our world?

Is there any hope out there when the government is cutting programs, jobs, and needed funding to function in the U.S.?

Is there any hope out there where neighbors don’t get to know each other and help each other out when needed?

Is there any hope out there in a world of I don’t care?

Yes, there is hope and all you have to do is look to Heaven and ask God to take care of everything you are thinking of from this poem.

I wrote this poem from my heart and my thoughts.

Pamela Park 6/25/2017

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9 ESV