- Upcoming training event will be offered once we are able to gather in person again, be on the look out.
- The two books that I referenced and submit as the definitive tomes on the best-practices of church missions work are When Helping Hurts (Corbett/Fikkert) and Toxic Charity (Lupton). I know many of you have read one or both of these books.
- “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” -James 1:27 (NIV)
- “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” -James 2:17 (NIV)
“I once was lost, but now I am found.”
I love this hymn, and lately, I have been reminded over and over again about lostness. Our daughter Emmaline has a doll named Jo-Jo that she takes everywhere (except into her classroom) and she loves that doll, but man, oh man does she leave it EVERYWHERE. For as passionate as she is about this doll, she loses it about 20 times a day; and guess who has to find it…yep, you guessed correctly, we do. We have been trying to teach Emmaline about responsibility and holding on to important things, like Jo-Jo, but we still have a long way to go.
All of us have lost something of value. Maybe we eventually found it, but maybe we didn’t and it was gone forever. I remember losing my retainer on the first day of 9th grade. I had just gotten my braces off and I was so proud of my shiny, straight teeth. I had a red retainer and I took good care of it, until my first lunch hour on my first day of high school. I went to Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, FL and I was a nervous freshman. I had survived the first two academic blocks and had found an inconspicuous spot to quickly eat my lunch with a few friends. When the third block bell rang, I was so nervous about finding my Biology class on time that I forgot to grab my shiny new red retainer from the bottom of my disposable lunch bag and promptly threw it away in a nearby trash can. While sitting in the opening class of Biology and learning about cellular makeup, I realized my grave mistake. I knew I couldn’t come home without my expensive new red retainer, and so I did what any good oldest daughter (who is trying to set a good example for her younger sisters would do), and I asked to be excused early from that class so I could dig through the trash can and retrieve my lost item (Gross, I know)If you could have seen the look on the faces of those that watched me dig through the trash that day, it really was embarrassing. Quite a way to start high school, wouldn’t you agree?! But I found it, which is the lesson of the story, right? Or is it?
I have been studying Luke chapter 15 over the last week, and in this chapter, you read three stories about lostness. First is the story of the Lost Sheep, second is the story of the Lost Coin, and third, is the story of the Prodigal Son, or another way of translating it, the Lost Son. I referenced this parable in my sermon on Sunday and then we talked about it again with my Staff Book Study Group on Tuesday morning. But the more I thought about these parables, the more questions I had. I had a companion book to read along with this study which has helped. Some of you have read it, Short Stories by Jesus by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine and it is rich. As a Jewish woman who is also a New Testament scholar at Vanderbilt Divinity School, she brings in the first-century Jewish world context in such a way, that every chapter seems to contain many, “a-ha!” moments for me.
As you re-read this 15th chapter of Luke, and I encourage you to do so, there is the rule of three, just like you will find in the story of the folklore favorite, The Three Little Pigs where of course the first and second are the same, but lead to a difference in the third. In the first two parables, the lost sheep and the lost coin; these first two models set up the third. The shepherd in the first parable leaves all 99 other sheep to find the one that is lost and in the second, the woman searches diligently until finding the lost silver coin. But in the third parable, the Prodigal Son is not searched for. Yes, the Father figure “sees him from far off and runs to embrace him” but the Father did not go in search for the youngest son. Could it have been because he had an estate to manage, or a reputation whose honor was violated by the sudden exit from his youngest son, or is it because he could not travel? We don’t know, but we know that we have heard this parable over and over again as we grew up in the church. And this story matters in how we see the Father, the two sons, how we understand lostness and repentance.
It is safe to say that all of these parables would have been heard through the ears of a 1st-century Jewish audience and that audience would have known that the main characters in each of these stories were in fact wealthy. No regular person would have had 100 sheep, maybe 5 or 6, but not 100. This large number of sheep communicates that this person comes from means. The same is said about the woman with 10 silver coins, one could also argue that she too is wealthy or has a wealthy family. And then the father in the Prodigal Son story has an estate with servants and helpers, which points also to a person of wealthy means. To lose one sheep amongst 100, doesn’t seem like much of a blow. To lose one silver coin out of 10, while the stakes are higher, is not a life or death situation. But losing one son, when you have only two, is the worst thing in the world. And so why wasn’t the Father actively looking, day and night for his lost son? Why didn’t he refuse to sleep or rest until his lost son was found? If the Father in this parable is in fact supposed to represent for us God, our Father, why didn’t he do more?
It might be because, the Father thought that it was the youngest son that was lost, but he was wrong. The youngest son came home and was reconciled to the Father and his household. But, sadly the oldest son, was lost and remained lost because even after attempts were made to bring the older son back into the fold and to reconcile the relationship, the story ends without any sort of resolution. Because sometimes, the things we think are lost for good, are only lost for a time. And in our focus on that lost thing, we forget what we really treasure and maybe, unwittingly, we take for granted all we already have.
I don’t know if you have ever lost something of deep value to you. In this story, the Father lost both sons. The youngest to his reckless living and the oldest to his own jealousy, anger, and feelings of alienation. When the rest of the neighbors and friends were celebrating the youngest son’s return with a party and good food, the Father had to go outside to find his oldest son; the one who was really lost. Levine writes, “The father did not know until this moment that the elder was the son who was truly “lost” to him. Once the recognition comes, he does what the shepherd and the woman do: realizing his loss, his lost son, the son whom he loves, he seeks to make his family whole.” (Short Stories of Jesus; pg. 68).
Jesus is using each of us to help make the family of God whole. Don’t ever assume someone is lost for good, nor should we ever assume that someone is found for good. Finding the lost, whether they are sheep, or coins, or people, takes a lot of work. We have been blessed with so much, especially during this time when so many others go without. When we have so much around us; our health, our financial security, a clean place to live, a healthy marriage; we forget what we treasure and if we aren’t careful, we can make the mistake of forgetting that all people matter; those lost and those found. I invite you to pray with me today a prayer of unveiling so that whatever relationship, or situation or circumstance that may seem lost or gone to you, may, through the power of the Holy Spirit come home again, join the party and we reconciled and whole again.
Today, on my early morning walk, I saw an Azalea blooming, quietly hidden low in a bush, soft, yet striking red. “An Azalea blooming in August?”, I wondered.
Following several afternoons of heavy rainfall, in the garden of my patio, a tiny, pink Rain Lily bloomed…delicate and lovely… a welcomed surprise!
Colorful red, soft pink, gentle while Penta; gracious flowering Begonia; varigated Jasmin spreading its colorful vines; purple Bellflower; graceful pink Caladium; gentle Rabbit Foot Fern swaying in a pot; tiny purple blossoms bursting from Peacock Ginger…
A Hydrangea Bush, recently moved to a sunnier location, is beginning to perk up!
Cuttings from Impatiens, overgrown and tenderly watered daily, planted in a quiet corner of my patio, are also perking up!
Angel Wing Begonia, drooping with lovely pink blossoms, bring smiles and joy!
Often, in my search for God, I look no further than my tiny patio. There is God in the beauty of flowers.
Thanks be to God for His creation!
“… you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29
- If you want to read a little more here are the links to the wiki pages for the Patristics more broadly, Gregory of Nyssa more specifically, and the Historical-Critical method of studying scripture. As always if you have any follow up questions, or would like to discuss, let me know, I would love to connect!
Sometimes things just don’t turn out as planned. You ask all of the right questions and you come prepared, but we don’t have to live long in this game of Life to know that things don’t always work out. Though we cannot control when things don’t go as planned, we can control our response and our perspective. And as followers of Jesus, we might also grow in these situations when we ask ourselves, where is God in the midst of this unhinged plan?
Ryan and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary last week and we had planned a trip to the West Coast for a few days of KID FREE time together. We had kept the schedule pretty flexible but on the day of our anniversary, we packed a lot in. We have always enjoyed being outside and exploring nature and so this little beach town was a perfect place to do that. After breakfast, we went to a Waters sports center and rented two paddleboards. We have both paddleboarded several times before now so we knew how to balance on and navigate these boards. We got a map of the winding waterways and began the 2-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. The ride to the beach was beautiful. It wasn’t too hot, we had the current helping push us along and the laminated map at the bottom of my paddleboard was a real resource in finding our way there fairly quickly. We arrived at the beach and swam to the sandbar, looked for shells, and had a snack. But after we had played in the water a little bit, we realized that as frugal people, we didn’t want to pay for another 2 hours of our board rental and so we began heading back.
Well, the next hour and a half did not go as planned. Remember the current and the mild heat, well we really were in for it on the return journey. Going back into the channel was a real struggle, because it was much hotter by then and more boats moved nearby which made balancing in their wake a bit more difficult. We easily found our way past the marina and to the entrance of the marshlands, but this is when things took a turn for the worse. For some reason, we struggled to find the right path back and made several wrong turns. We continued to fight against the current but we were already tired from the first hour of paddling. So we stopped at a small marshland island and held on to twigs while we consulted the map together. We decided on the right path of the three that were present and set our course. But then I did something really stupid. In trying to correct my board so that it was heading in the right direction, I put my right foot into the water to help turn off of the island. BIG MISTAKE! I stepped right onto an oyster bed and sliced part of my right big toe in half. So here I was nursing, a pretty “gnarly” cut, with blood pouring onto my rental board and now the worry of infection.
As if that wasn’t enough, we got lost two more times (did I mention we had a map) and nearly got run over by a guy and his daughter driving too fast through the channels (Little Boss captain, not cool!). If I had a snapshot of the moments that followed, you would all be praying for me. I was in pain, and tired and frustrated and really hungry and lost. I told my sweet husband, “I am NEVER going paddle-boarding EVER again!” Then I secretly wondered if Giant White Sharks could survive in shallow brackish water and because of the smell of my still profusely bleeding toe if one might be right behind me ready to finish me off…dramatic, I know. All of the feelings from the first half of the paddle-boarding trip were gone, and what was before me was pain and feelings of discouragement and quite honestly, I had built up our 10th wedding anniversary in such a way that I missed the grace in the chaos. For instance, I was so caught up in the disappointment, that I didn’t live into the thankfulness of when Ryan tried to tie my board to his so he could take the brunt of the burden, or when he lovingly cleaned the cut when we got back safely to shore, or when he yelled at the speeding boat out of sheer protection for my safety when he drove too close to me in that channel. But I didn’t remember all of that until I was back safely in an air-conditioned car recounting the events of the last few hours.
So what is it about those moments when things don’t go our way or when our plans are thwarted? Why do we lose such perspective and turn into the person we don’t want to be; a person that doesn’t represent Jesus. Control is a powerful thing and sometimes what we grieve most is the loss of control. I think about the four friends that tried to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, only to be thwarted because of the crowd (Luke 5:17-26). Instead of growing discouraged or blaming the other friends in the cohort about how this wasn’t well thought-through, they performed some questionable roofing removing and lowered their friend to Jesus from the ceiling. Wow! I want friends like that! Destruction of private property aside, when things were out of control, and their plans did not come to fruition, they kept going because they had a goal in mind.
I invite you today to think about a time in your life where your plans were thwarted and changed and when life was out of your control. How did you act then? What would you have changed about that perspective if you could? And most importantly where was God in that change and what did you learn about God’s love for you even when things happened differently than you had wanted them to.
Brain Fitness Academy (BFA) is a vibrant ministry of this church that serves individuals in the early stages of memory loss related to Mild Cognitive Impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of dementia. In response to COVID-19, our ministry has thought outside the box to continue to impact the lives of our members and community. BFA is currently meeting online via Zoom with the same impactful, research-based curriculum and finding creative ways to meet our members where they are during such a difficult time for us all.
In our programming, we include cognitive activities that stimulate every area of the brain, socialization activities, we even focus on our physical health with a Stretch, Breathe, and Balance class that incorporates seated yoga and more! We partner with outside organizations to enhance the program as well – even online! For more information on ways you can get involved, please contact [email protected]