by Phil Ware
The sky is gray and wet. The wind is blowing from the North. It's going to be a cold and damp day. I slip on my America's Cup jacket and zip it up. It feels especially good to me this morning. Not only is it warm and comfortable, it's newly found!
My friends, you are spiritual. So if someone is trapped in sin, you gently lead that person back to the right path. But watch out, and don't be tempted yourself. You obey the law of Christ when you offer each other a helping hand. Galatians 6:1-2
Somewhere in the middle of a wild Friday night of multiple basketball games and working the concession stand, I had misplaced my jacket. When I left, I didn't realize it was gone. The next morning, however, it wasn't where I expected it to be and I panicked! This wonderful gift is more than a coat; it's a treasure.
Suppose a woman has ten valuable silver coins and loses one. Won't she light a lamp and look in every corner of the house and sweep every nook and cranny until she finds it?" Luke 15:8
I was frantic. I searched all of our closets. I checked the cars. I mentally retraced my steps as I thought about where I had worn it last. Then it clicked. I seized the very first opportunity to check on my lost coat's whereabouts. BINGO! It was there. Am I sure relieved! So now today, my jacket feels especially warm and comfy!
My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God's truth, don't write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented and epidemic of wandering away from God. James 5:19-20 (The Message)
Finding what is lost, misplaced, or missed is part of our everyday life, except unfortunately, in most churches. As congregations have grown larger, conversion and faith more individualistic, and culture has encouraged us to be more private and withdrawn, people wander in and out of churches with little notice. Often times they don't leave for other churches, they just leave. They're gone and nothing is done to reclaim them. In fact, their absence isn't even noticed most of the time!
Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. There are still others to whom you need to show mercy, but be careful that you are not contaminated by their sins. Jude 22-23
Jesus made clear that this was a major concern of God. While so often Jesus' parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (see Luke 15) are used to refer to those who have never come to Christ, if you listen to the stories, they're really about those who were once a part of the flock, the home, and the family that get lost. Several of the New Testament writers, inspired by the Spirit of God, remind us that this should be a major concern for us in God's family.
Bottom line, God wants us to be cleansed, re-made, and empowered inside out and out. He doesn't want us to settle for car wash Christianity when transformational Christianity, Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered Christianity are ours. Let's not sell ourselves short on this matter. Let's ask God to cleanse us and empower us thoroughly!
You should therefore be most careful, my brothers, that there should not be in any of you that wickedness of heart which refuses to trust, and deserts the cause of the living God. Help one another to stand firm in the faith every day, while it is still called "today," and beware that none of you becomes deaf and blind to God through the delusive glamour of sin. Hebrews 3:12-13
Our congregation is making a special effort to recalibrate our focus to be more like Jesus, who always put people first. Only his Father's will meant more to Jesus than the individual people to whom he ministered and longed to minister. I hope that we can be better at noticing when someone is missing, then go find that person and bring him or her back. As I read the Scriptures, several parts of this process are crucial.
I'm not sure what your area of giftedness in the family of God is, but I do know that it is all of our responsibility to reach out to those among us who are struggling, vulnerable, weak, discouraged, or broken. Let's add to that list, those who are missing!
We must have a relationship with each other that lets us know each other and our needs. That means that many of our churches need to have house-to-house meetings like the early church did (See Acts 2: 46; 20:20; cf. Romans 16:3-5; Philemon 2) in addition to our larger church assemblies. Much of the New Testament teaching focuses on "one another" issues. That means we must build "one another" communities so that when someone is missing, we know it.
When someone is missing or lost to us, our concern must lead us to action. Praying for missing people is great, even crucial, but we must also actively search for them. Celebration
When someone comes back that has been away, has been lost from the family, we want to celebrate their return! Each person is precious to God and they should be to us. Their return to our family life is a time of joy. (Luke 15:6-7, 9-10, 22-24, 32)
It is not just the person who returns that needs to recommit himself or herself to the work of the Lord; it is also our need. We want to offer encouragement and support for our returning brother or sister to help that person know that we love, appreciate, and need them as part of our family. (Hebrews 3:12-14; 10:19-25)
"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? ... In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." Matthew 18:12-14
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