Lost & Found

On a warm afternoon, a lamb takes a peek at a visitor while eating hay at Fat Rooster Farm in Royalton, Vt., on April 27, 2003. (Photo by Geoff Hansen)

 “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 “So he told them this parable: “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? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 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.’ 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.

Luke 15:1-7

What does it mean to be lost? Some have that much figured out by now, (and if not, we will.) The Bible nails us with this story, and it rings true of the human condition. You don’t need a Ph.D. in Psychology to understand this. The heart and soul of a man and a woman are in an awful state of separation from God, and some are beginning to understand this.

The three stories reveal that the Pharisees and the scribes have issues.

Their whole belief system–the idea of who’s righteous and who’s not, is being rocked. The sinners are coming to listen to Jesus (maybe for the stories, maybe for something else?) The religious regime is mystified, and maybe a bit jealous. Perhaps they were irked at the grace of God they see in Jesus?

Jesus tells His first story, (and he loves to tell stories I’ve found.) Anyway, the parable he shares is 100 words (more or less) and it describes the condition of every man, woman, and child–everyone who has ever existed. He clearly cuts through “religion” like a hot knife through cold butter. He quite succinctly describes us. And wow, these stories are eye-openers.

We’re all lost sheep–wandering, and sometimes very confused.

The paths we’ve taken to get out of our “lost-ness” have only confused us even more. We’ve had to deal with thorns and vultures; it hasn’t been easy, and we’ve never been able to reconnect to safety. Some become “smart” people, others buy fast cars, and some kill their lost-ness with booze or drugs. We find many different ways to keep us from feeling this separation from God.

A very lost sheep.

In Luke 15, we find three parables that all deal with lost things–sheep, coins, and sons. Essentially, they each explain what now has happened to us. Most of us know that the religion of the Pharisees hasn’t worked. Even the sinners understand that much. Sometimes even the very lost have figured that much out, even before the so-called righteous do.

Jesus tracks us down–our confusion has finally lifted enough to see his outstretched arm. The Father has this odd preference for those who know they’ve lost, and these three parables come in a deliberate succession–that should make things pretty clear.

So dear one, will you insist on wandering? Is that what you really want?

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Are You “Crippled?”

Crutches at the Table

“David asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”‘ 

 2 Samuel 9:3, NIV 

This crippled man was named Mephibosheth.  He was injured by the actions of a nurse;  she dropped him as she was trying to escape the palace (2 Sam. 4:4).  It was not of Mephibosheth’s doing, but someone else made a mistake, and it totally and irrevocably changed his life.

As a result, he would always be disabled.

If you haul out your old musty commentaries, you’ll find that Mephibosheth’s name means, “shame,” and I really believe that this would’ve been an integral part–maybe ‘subtle’ is a better word here, of how people treated him. But David was a different sort of king (as kings go), and he elevates Mephibosheth to the feasting table.

King David wants to bring him to the table!

Interesting. I believe that there are a great many people like Mephibosheth.  They’ve been injured by someone else’s stumbling.  It seems we pass these things on to each other.  And the lameness we inflict may not be physical.  It may be spiritual or emotional.  Sometimes we injure others without knowing what we have really done to them.

Jesus made some powerful statements about people who injure others.  

Some of the most vicious and evil woundings that are done are usually on a moral or spiritual level.  People can heal physically over time, but the wounds of the spirit are incredibly devastating.  When someone harms us on this level it can completely undo us, for a lifetime. (And perhaps, maybe forever).

We are capable of much evil.  We affect others in ways we don’t understand.  We need to seek God’s grace right now; we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of diminishing or minimizing what we have done. A vital point to consider: We cannot go on crippling others without injuring ourselves.

Wounded people wound. But healed people can often become healers themselves.

We can read of King David’s truly majestic treatment of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. He actively blessed him, and perhaps that is the proactive action we ought to take. We must make the effort– to bless others.

As a king, this was a very minor incident. Hardly worth recording in the lofty affairs of state. But as a man–to restore Mephibosheth, was definitely one of his greatest decisions. Kindness and gentleness should always be a key part of someone who is in authority, especially over others.

There’s another concept here– we discover something that is profoundly true about us in Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus.  It’s here, in 1:5, that we see that God our Father, acts like David, and receives Mephibosheth; just like God receives us to Himself. We find that we’re adopted, loved, and held, and we get a prime place at the table!

We may use crutches, but we walk by faith. And that may be the greatest lesson in this portion of scripture–and the most profound experience we can have as believers.

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

Ephesians 1:5, NLT

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When God Puts You Into a Quarantine

quarantine

Quarantines are a real possibility, even to this day. A quarantine is imposed when a disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent COVID-19 are just a few physical diseases where isolation must be imposed.

It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force has been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible.

The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted had to isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace, as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principle of Usefulness

Now in a large house, there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are lots of pots and pans of various uses.  Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of different categories. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re utilized in common and ignoble ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of the New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belongs to Him. He alone determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Changes in status can be experienced. In God’s economy, clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious.

It affects believers, and the Church becomes compromised by what we’ve done. And then sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit–until the contagion passes. This spiritual disease must not be permitted.

I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times, but there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. He has never turned away a sinning child who repents of their sin.

“Yes, I am His servant, but I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good. And my Father knows what is best.” 

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When Eagles Go Bad

Looking for their dinner

“I am coming soon. Continue strong in your faith so no one will take away your crown.”

Rev. 3:11, NCV

I have lived in Alaska for over 30 years.  It’s beautiful, probably one of the most enchanting places on earth, by far. Admittedly it does have an “edge” as well. It can get very cold, and we can have snow piled up waist-high in just a few hours. I have to admit though, that the winter nights up here can be excruciatingly long and dark.

But my freezer is full of salmon, halibut, caribou, and of course, moose meat. We can pick berries in the summer, with a wary eye for bears, I never carry a gun though.  We kayak, ski, and snow machine for fun. My son was a snowboarder wanna-be. We get chased by moose–I was very close to being trampled once.

I have always had a strong connection with eagles.

You can find them throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska.  And that is a lot.  You can see them every day here if you want. (And you never let your small dog out, he can become dinner for the eagle. Seriously.)

I’ve been thinking about eagles. When I went to the dump recently I saw several of them working for the trash heaps.  I don’t know, but it really bothered me.  They had the form of an eagle; the wing span and the aloofness, but they were pathetic.  Their feathers were matted down, and they looked completely disheveled.  They were scrounging for scraps, competing with the crows.

The dump here is like a “crack house” for eagles.

A hard day’s night

Perhaps the saddest thing was they were losing their distinctive white heads. They had given it up for dump food.  This is a big problem in many towns here in Alaska.  The eagle’s heads turn in color to a dark grey.  You have to look a little closer to see that they are still bald eagles. You can’t be too sure.

In the Bible, God is identified as being an eagle. But so are Christians. There is something quite unsettling and tragic to encounter a believer addicted and controlled by their appetites. Soon they will change, as they grow more pathetic and disheveled.  They give up soaring and become wretched souls, without joy or purpose. All they know is a steady misery.

We don’t belong, and it isn’t who we are.

Those of us who struggle can’t live out of a landfill. You see, we were meant to soar, strong and free.  No matter who you are– addictions, compulsions, or mental illness. We can still become eagle Christians.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you
from the beginning?
Have you not considered
the foundations of the earth?”

Isaiah 40:21

Deep down I want to spiritually soar–I resist living out of the dumps.  It is a heavy struggle at times, but we were re-created to fly. Please, never forget that. Keep flapping your wings. You were meant to glide with Him.

The dump is not your home.

 

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You’re a Steward of Your Pain

Some time ago I came across a story that connected. A visiting speaker stood in front of a congregation and shared a painful incident from his childhood. He wanted to bring healing. After he spoke, an elder came and spoke to him–

“You have learned how to become a proper steward of your pain.”

The visiting speaker was profoundly touched by this. Finally, something came together in his heart and soul. Yes, he did learn how to deal scripturally with those ugly things from his past. He was becoming a proper steward of his pain.

The word for steward in the original Greek is oikonomos. It literally means “a keeper of a home.” It describes a manager, a superintendent to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the diligent care of receipts and expenditures.

The issue seems to be of management, how can God use these awful things for building His Kingdom?

No question about it, we live in a world of darkness. Each of us has been touched by hard things. Scars are part of our lives. When we come to Christ they come with us. All of these grim things are a real piece of us, we have been hurt (or maybe we’ve wounded others?)

Are you a good steward of who you are? Whether you’ve experienced trauma–something physical, sexual, or perhaps a mental illness. It could be any scar you carry from your past, and no one is immune from them it seems. You’ll find freedom if you can use these things for Him and his Kingdom.

We must see and understand that Jesus has taken everything and redeems it all for His glory.

He understands us fully–our past, present, and future. He ‘knows’ us–the real and hidden us. The challenge I suppose is to take these sad events to the throne. He alone can heal and then use that which has devastated us. What was intended to destroy is now meant to build.

Satan has afflicted you in his dark attempt to destroy you.

Jesus intervenes to save. As we grow to accept this, the Holy Spirit comes as our comforter and guide. He starts to teach us true redemption, and the incredible healing that he brings with him. It really is his work, not ours. We finally understand. It’s then we become broken healers that God can use.

The light has truly overcome the dark.

We’re being taught (sometimes very slowly) to carry all of these things and plead the blood of Jesus over our past. He covers us completely. He has redeemed us. Luke 1:68 explains much clearer than I can:

“Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.”

Becoming a steward of our pain is his doing. We’re able to touch others with these things that would cripple and destroy others. He has made us “managers” of these things, and we are taught to teach others, declaring that God has completely saved us. He works miracles!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

We’ll sovereignly meet those who need to hear our story. We’re being transformed into authentic witnesses. Yes, at times these awful things still hurt, and I suppose that’s to be expected. But we’re learning to manage them. We’ve become real-life stewards of our pain.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28, Message

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Listening to Brennan Manning

Here are several quotes written by Brennan Manning. They’re definitely thought-provoking and should be prayed through. I think they’re worth considering. If you like them great, if not that’s ok too.

“The gospel declares that no matter how dutiful or prayerful we are, we can’t save ourselves. What Jesus did was sufficient.”

When we wallow in guilt, remorse, and shame over real or imagined sins of the past, we are disdaining God’s gift of grace.”

“God loves you unconditionally, as you are, and not as you should be because nobody is as they should be.”

“I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.”

In my experience, self-hatred is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit.”

“The splendor of a human heart that trusts it is loved unconditionally gives God more pleasure than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”, Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, the sight of 10,000 butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom. Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for love of it.”

“Those who have the disease called Jesus will never be cured.”

“The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence.”

“God loves us as we are…not as we ought to be, because we are never going to be as we ought to be.”

“The ragamuffin gospel reveals that Jesus forgives sins, including the sins of the flesh; that He is comfortable with sinners who remember how to show compassion; but that He cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the Spirit.”

“The North American Church is at a critical juncture. The gospel of grace is being confused and compromised by silence, seduction, and outright subversion. The vitality of the faith is being jeopardized. The lying slogans of the fixers who carry religion like a sword of judgment pile up with impunity. Let ragamuffins everywhere gather as a confessing Church to cry out in protest. Revoke the licenses of religious leaders who falsify the idea of God. Sentence them to three years in solitude with the Bible as their only companion.”

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

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