Lost and found

No one wants to admit they’re lost.

Maybe that’s why Jesus had to tell three stories in a row about things that were lost and found.

First there was the parable of the lost sheep. Sheep follow their stomachs from one tuft of grass to the next. If no one is watching them, they will wander off until they’re hopelessly lost. Then they panic and bleat to the point of exhaustion. In Luke 15, Jesus said the only way for the shepherd to bring the lost sheep home was to hoist it over his shoulders. It could only be saved at great cost to the shepherd.

Then Jesus told a parable about a lost coin. The woman who’d lost the coin had to search carefully to find it.

Jesus said that finding the sheep and the coin were cause for a community celebration, much like the way angels celebrate when a sinner repents.


How does Jesus connect a lost sheep and a lost coin to repentance?

Well, neither sheep nor coins can find themselves.

Jesus then told a third parable, where something infinitely more valuable had been lost: a son. The son had schemed to get a share of his father’s estate, then followed his appetites until his fortune was lost. So, he started scheming again—he would confess, say that he was sorry, and offer to work off the debt.

But the son was just as hopelessly lost as the sheep and the coin.

His father wasn’t interested in any of that.

No amount of bleating was going to make any difference.

All his father wanted was his son back.

Do you see how radical Jesus’ idea of repentance is?

When Jesus comes searching for us, all we can do is allow ourselves to be found.

Migrating gazelles

Ann Voskamp had a recurring nightmare: She’d been diagnosed with cancer, but no one cared. 

Ann’s little sister had died when Ann was only four, and the tragedy had defined her family’s life. Her mother was in and out of psychiatric wards. Ann battled anxiety, and an inner voice told her she was a failure. 

But one day she got a card from her father-in-law who really had lost his wife of 50 years…to cancer.

Ann’s nightmare.

He wrote, “Thinking on the beginning of this year, who does God call to come home?  Is it me, Lord? May I be ready.”

So, Ann wanted to know, how I do I live in this life so I’m ready for the next?

How does one fully live this life?

In a beauty parlor one day she saw a woman reading a book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die. She wondered, if I die of cancer, I’ll never get to see gazelles migrating in the Serengeti. I’ll never get to climb Machu Pichu, or whatever. 

I’m just a homeschooling mother of six, washing towels, cleaning toilets.

She asked, “Are there places that must be known, accomplishments that must be had, before one is really ready?”

“Are there physical places that simply must be seen before I stop breathing within time, before I inhale eternity?”

“Why? To say that I’ve had reason to bow low? To say that I’ve seen beauty? To say that I’ve been arrested by wonder?”

“Isn’t the wonder here?

And she remembered that 12 hours before he was crucified, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it.

In meditating on the Greek word “gave thanks,” eucharesteo, she realized that the root word charis meant “grace,” and a derivative of charis was cara, which means “joy.”

What she needed wasn’t more sights to dazzle the eye, it was more holy joy. 

She began to realize that the depths of joy depended on the depths of her thanks.

The way to prepare for the next life is to be grateful in this one.

Ann Voskamp is the author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Living sacrifice

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

                                                                  Romans 12:1, The Message

In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart played a man named George Bailey who had great plans for his life. He told his fiancée, “Mary, I know what I’m going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that. I’m going to leave this little town far behind, and I’m going to see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum.  Then I’m coming back here, and I’ll go to college and see what they know, and then I’m going to build things. I’m going to build airfields. I’m going to build skyscrapers a hundred stories high. I’m going to build bridges a mile long.”

It turned out that George was completely wrong. God had other plans for him. He ended up doing every day for his whole life what he did the day before.

At the end of the movie, an angel showed him the difference he had made to everyone in his life.

By the way, Presbyterians don’t believe that when a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. 

We do believe, as the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:1-2, when we offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice…”

When we live our lives in wonder and gratitude for the one who gave himself totally for us…

When we dedicate every moment, waking and sleeping, to him…

We don’t lose our life, we gain it. 

Fish out of water

I have a good friend who left the Air Force as a young officer because he had a string of bad bosses. He said he was tired of “working for the man,” so he got out and became his own boss, a financial advisor. Nothing wrong with that, but he wasn’t flying jets, the thing he really loved.

And of course, when you have your own business, everyone is your boss. 

My friend eventually went to fly for the airlines, and he’s been happy ever since. But it meant giving up the “freedom” of being his own boss.

When you take a fish out of water, is the fish more or less free? It’s less free, of course; it flips around in a panic. A fish can only be what it was meant to be in the water.

In a sense, this is the message of the entire Christian faith. It’s only when we are in a relationship with God that we are truly free to be ourselves.

This is what the Apostle Paul was trying to get across in his letter to the Galatians.

When we accept on faith what Jesus Christ did on the cross, we’re restored to a relationship with God, and God begins to restore the image of God in us. 

Like putting my friend back in the cockpit where he belonged.

Like putting us flipping fish back in the water.