Our son was around the age of 4. Sitting in the shopping cart in our local Walmart, long legs dangling, as he smiled and spoke to every single person within ear shot. Yes, he was friendly then and he is friendly now at 22.
After hearing him politely ask over and over if he could get down and walk with his dad and I, we reluctantly set him on the ground.
Fast forward literally like 3 minutes and poof! No where to be found!
We began calling out his name, scrambling around the department we were in, searching frantically to no avail. I rushed to the front of the store to stop any predators from exiting with him and Walmart issued their security protocol. Code Adam! All doors were shut and locked and all employees put on alert!
We continued searching for what seemed like an eternity, but I think was about 5 minutes, and then, there he was. A stranger who was shopping came towards us with her hand in his. He had the biggest grin on his face and we had to decide whether to strangle him or squeeze him to death! We chose the latter.
Our son didn’t choose to leave his parents…he was playing a game. He was hiding in the clothing racks to see if we could find him. We were the one’s responsible. We had lost him.
Jesus used to tell stories, called parables, whereby He would explain things in a manner that was simple…understandable…relatable. I love that He knew we needed that!
He tells us in Luke 15 two different stories of things that were lost.
You may be familiar with the first story. A shepherd is tending to his flock. One hundred gloriously, dumb sheep. One sheep loses his way while under the shepherd’s care and the shepherd leaves the other ninety nine to search him out. Out of one hundred, only 1 was lost, and he left the others to seek him out. I don’t know, but I imagine when he found that sheep, he simply tapped it on the behind with his staff and pointed it in the right direction. Back to safety. Back to a place of security.
The second story tells us how a woman owns 10 coins and she loses one in her home. One tenth of her money. She lights a lamp, sweeps and cleans house until she finds it. Once found, she calls her friends over to celebrate! I may steal her idea the next time I lose something! Jesus tells us that just like this woman, there is rejoicing in heaven amongst the angels when one of God’s children turns from sin back into fellowship with Him.
Now this third story is where I’ve been parked all week. I can identify with this for myself and I’ve seen it in friends and loved ones over the years. This next story is an invitation.
It’s not about a coin or a sheep. It’s a person. The only thing that was ever created in the image of God. The thing that God wants to have relationship with. The thing that has been given free will, to think and plan and plot, even if it decides to walk away from its creator.
This is you.
This is me.
This man in the story is living with his father and brother. He goes to his dad and asks to have his inheritance early. Like, “I know you’re not dead yet father, but can I have my money?”
The father agrees (gasp!), gives the son his inheritance, and watches him walk out of his life. Off the property. Through the gate. Gone.
Over time, the young man spends every last penny he has. He has to take jobs that are nasty and degrading. He contemplates eating the slop the pigs are eating because he is so hungry. He loses his friends. After all, who wants to hang around someone who has no money?
I’ve seen “friends” like that come and go in the lives of my kids, but I digress…
In desperation and humility, he turns to head home. Destitute. Embarrassed. Regretful of his choices.
He knows who will take him back.
“So he got up and went to his father…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” – Luke 15:20
From a distance, his father sees him coming home. He meets him with an embrace and a kiss. As his son confesses that he has sinned against his father and God and feels that he is no longer worthy to be called “son”, his father reacts with commands to those around him.
Prepare to party! Get my boy some shoes, a coat and jewelry for his hands! Prepare a meal, we are celebrating my son’s return!!
Read it for yourself.
He does not condemn his child. He doesn’t issue a consequence. He doesn’t scold or embarrass him, he simply loves him. He puts him right back where he belongs…back into the family…not as a servant, but as a blood relative.
This is an invitation for you, for me.
Is your hand on the gate? Are you contemplating seeing if the grass is greener elsewhere? Another place to put your hope? Are you thinking of exploring other avenues of pleasure and success?
Do you have one foot out the gate? Are your friends wooing you away from your faith? Is an old habit or addiction calling your name? Are you tempted to go where there’s less accountability?
Are you already out? Working hard to find peace and joy. Perhaps you’re using busyness to fill yourself up. Maybe even “church work” or something else that’s good, but it’s just not God.
He wants all of us. He wants us to choose Him. Not the stuff He can give us, but Him.
He chose us before the beginning of time. He has made a way for us to talk one on one with Him and enjoy the security that comes from being His child.
This is your invitation.
It’s never too late and you’re never too far away to turn back.
Take your hand off the gate.
Step back inside the fence.
Turn back towards Him.
He is waiting eagerly for your return.
Just go home.