Small essays about faith and life to lift your spirit and give you hope.
Small essays about faith and life to lift your spirit and give you hope.
Some years ago I heard about a young woman who had lost some small object - a key, a ring, money; I don’t remember. What I do recall, however, is the way she set about looking for it.
At first, I was told, she was rather beside herself; the thing was valuable and appeared to have vanished. After a while, however, she made a choice that shocked me to my non-believing core: she turned her treasured object over to Jesus. I don’t remember much after that, whether she found what she was looking for or didn’t. I do recall thinking how passive and silly the woman appeared – bordering on superstitious. I didn’t get it. I didn’t know God or how God works.
In the parable of the lost coin, we see how God is thinking about people like me. Wanting us (or wanting us back). Wooing us even. Showering us with loving pursuit. Incessantly. It’s a minor miracle … maybe even a major miracle … that the Creator of the universe has his mind set on us.
“I will search for my sheep, and will seek them out,” God declares in Ezekiel.
No matter how deep we crawl back into ourselves during time of trial (or sin), God is there. No matter how deep the pit we find ourselves in, he is there – even as water in the pit keeps rising.
But God is waiting. Willing. Wanting … me.
“As shepherds seek out their flocks … so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” The Lord’s words.
Sheep are famously dumb. Guided by the intelligence of a stump, they will travel in circles through thickets of briars (while at the mercy of every wolf in the area) in search of some new patch of grass. That sounds a lot like us, wandering in circles in search of our own fresh patches of green. Like innocent little lambs, which is how we sometimes view ourselves, we get caught up in all sorts of thickets, while the devil sits on a tree branch grinning down at us (imagine the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland).
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asked Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” replied the cat.
“I don’t care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.
My father-in-law, who occasionally flashed a Cheshire Cat grin, once told me, “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter how you get there.” I think he may have cribbed that from Lewis Carroll, but no matter. The truth sticks regardless of where you hear it.
But God knows his sheep and pursues them – no matter where they go.
I recall having gone into an empty Catholic church some years ago, decades after I had left Catholicism behind in a fit of pique, and my eye was attracted to a bit of Scripture tacked to the back of a pew:
“You did not choose me. I chose you.” Which turned out to be John 15:16.
The possibility that God had chosen me, had pursued this wandering sheep through deep thickets of disdain and doubt, never occurred to me. If only I’d figured that out earlier and acquiesced to the Lord's purposes, how different my life may have been.
I once read in a little paperback called God’s Little Instruction Book that “Most people wish to serve God – but only in an advisory capacity.” In other words, “My plans are set, Lord. So please ratify them!” That’s not the way it works, I have discovered through considerable error and pain. As if to confirm the truth of this matter, the little book proceeded to quote Proverbs 16:3:
“Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.”
God’s ultimate triumph is in living his life through us, a process during which we are called to abandon any pretext that we are in control and trust him instead, turning all we are (and all we can ever be) over to the Lord and then letting him work our lives out as he will.
It can be unsettling, but the truth of Christ’s message is this: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) Surrendering your life to God is not about losing all the good stuff about your present life and becoming some kind of boring religious automaton. It’s about living a transformed life – not a life of perfection, but one in which even our imperfections and disappointments can be used for the glory of God.
Non-believers, of course, will stand aghast upon hearing so radical a concept, like I did after hearing about the young woman who called on Jesus to find her vanished valuable. But we are so much more than some lost coin or wandering lamb to a sovereign God who has promised to find us and lead us to whatever patch of green he has in mind.
“For thus says, the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered … I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”
And to a wanderer like me, that’s no minor miracle!
A friend emailed me a goose story not long ago that hung around my inbox for a good while before I opened it. It was a CBS Sunday Morning story from Lake Oswego, Oregon. The piece opens as a Canada goose lifts up from the lake and lands on the seat of a slowly moving speedboat, as if such a thing is perfectly normal. The man in the boat, Mike, picks the goose up, tosses it back in the water and then guns the boat, leaving the bird behind. Undeterred at this rudeness, the goose takes to the air in pursuit. Matching its speed to the boat through a deft combination of flaps, glides and stalls, it touches down on the seat in front of Mike and folds its wings - while the boat keeps moving. This time, the goose is allowed to remain.
Turns out the bird and the man are old friends. Mike found her as a fuzzy gosling struggling in the lake, no parent in sight. He named her Kyle and proceeded to raise her at his lakeside home. Two years later, the goose had grown and it was more than time for her to return to the wild. Except that she wouldn’t go.
“I tried to get rid of her,” Mike says. “I’ve driven her miles away and then left her in the middle of nowhere, and when I come back she’s already home before me."
Which reminds me of another “coming home” story.
Going on thirty years ago, I slipped into a church sanctuary one day, more out of curiosity than anything. After decades away from religion, God had been trying to get my attention, using hard times as a tool. There were hints of his presence woven through my difficulties, and as much as I could have used the help, I struggled with the idea of handing my troubles, my life, over to Someone I could barely comprehend. The sanctuary was still. Votive candles winked their welcome down in front by the altar, while a thin shaft of morning light filtering through stained glass reflected off the pews and made the place seem a bit less intimidating. I slipped into a back pew, like my mother did when she took us kids to church (she got woozy in crowds and needed to be close to the door).
A card on the back of the next pew caught my eye right away. “You did not choose me,” it read in bold type, “but I chose you.” What an astonishing declaration! I can’t say I knew that God had reached out and chosen me at that moment – or had chosen me before I born, especially after my having tossed him aside those many years back, but his words stuck and became one of the faith building blocks that led eventually to my acquiescence to Christ as Lord of my life.
The notion of God as a Lover who pursues – even woos - us with passion has always been mildly disturbing to me, perhaps because of my overall unease with romantic expression. But then along comes a story about a bird named Kyle and a man named Mike. Is it love or merely an imprint? Does it matter? Simply put, Kyle has chosen Mike and never gives up on him – even when he rejects her. And, for whatever reason and by whatever mechanism, the Lord appears to choose us in much the same way.
Now that’s a story worth telling!
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit--fruit that will last--and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16 NIV