For months now I have contemplated the reasons for this blog and why I continue to feel so compelled to put these thoughts on display for all to see. I’m sure those of you who have known me for a really long time would agree that this writing thing is kinda out of character. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m good at the talking. A natural talker some would say. It’s been a blessing and a curse from the beginning. Personally, I like to think of this gift as a leadership quality but I’m positive some would disagree. However, the writing…well, it’s something new. I was never a fan of language arts in school. I like the concrete rules and regulations of math and science instead of this “sometimes” business in spelling and grammar. In fact, when I completed graduate school and submitted my last research paper, I’m pretty sure I swore that I’d never write again. Yet, here we are.
Even more surprising to those who know me best is that I write from a Christian perspective. I have been a Christian most of my life and I’ve always readily confessed my faith, but I’ve also been very vocal about religious activity that didn’t make sense to me. As some of you know, I grew up in a pastor’s home and my list of grievances was, sometimes, quite long. Here’s a short list…
- Sunday evening services – I mean…why???
- Church attire – when I was really young, our denomination was somewhat strict and I strongly disagreed.
- Language – No even semi-bad words, ever.
I questioned everything and I still remember the look on my parent’s face when I asked so many inappropriate questions. Like this one time as a teenager, I asked, “Hey, do you think Jesus was hot?’ My mother quickly shouted, “Mary Ann!”. I knew the tone and stopped but I did finish this conversation later with my sister. We confidently concluded that the answer was yes and the drawings we have seen must be inaccurate.
So, I can only imagine the surprise of my parents every time they read this blog. But, I can tell you that no one is more surprised than me. Yet, here we are. This is one of my favorite things about God – when he calls us to do something…well, crazy…something out of character…something far-fetched…something so unimaginable that it must be God.
And, on that note, here we go again…God and I.
Several weeks ago, I was praying for direction with my writing and I felt an overwhelming sense that God said, “tell them that I love them”. I sort of excused this thought as nonsense because everyone knows that right? But, it keeps coming back “tell them that I love them – tell them”.
Then my church started a new sermon series, “Awaken”, specifically teaching on scripture I’d been studying and it was back, “tell them that I love them”. So, we’re going to do something a little different because I’m getting the hint that God is serious about this. Over the next few weeks, I will be using parables in Luke 15 to hopefully demonstrate just how much God loves you. It’s a series, kinda – I guess?
Luke 15 tells us that a group of tax collectors and “sinners” had gathered around to hear Jesus teach. Jesus was continually criticized by the Pharisees for hanging out with this sort of riff-raff. Tax collectors were the lowest in the community because they were Jewish people collecting taxes for the Roman government and seen as traitors. Then you have, well, the “sinners”. Those far from God and righteousness. See, in that time, there was a religious line in the sand, so to speak…righteous vs unrighteous…clean vs unclean…right vs wrong…us vs them. And, if you were on the “right” side, you didn’t associate with people on the “wrong” side. I mean, eww…tax collectors and sinners…eww.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m just gonna spend a little time here because, even though we don’t have stringent rules regarding righteousness, I think most of us would admit, maybe reluctantly, that we still carry at least some of these rules around. We categorize those around us into groups and, if we’re honest, tend to stay with our kind.
The good vs the bad.
The rule followers vs the rebels.
The fat vs the skinny.
The drunks and the drug-addicts vs the clean.
The losers vs the winners.
The red states vs the blue.
The haves vs have-nots.
The educated vs the less educated.
The right vs wrong.
Us vs Them.
Sound familiar? We all have a list and, in some ways, everyone we meet is ranked. It’s so easy to dismiss those who rank low and don’t quite make the list. Even in the Christian world, we identify with those who are most like us. Why do you think we have so many denominations? Right vs wrong?? I’ve always wondered what God really thinks about how separated we are as Christians???
But, Jesus not only associated with the tax collectors and sinners, he ate with them. And, at that time and probably even today, eating with someone meant acceptance…getting to know them and forming relationships.
You see, “People who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus, and he liked them back” (Andy Stanley).
I wonder if people who are far from God today would say the same about most Christians? It’s just a thought but, I have to tell you that this thought bothers me because what Jesus demonstrates this passage is his love for everyone. It’s not segregated and not meant for “special groups”. And what the Pharisees continue to miss throughout the four gospels is that they, too, were in need of this friendship, acceptance, love and grace given by this savior, Jesus.
The rest of the chapter is dedicated to parables about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. We will unpack these stories in later posts, but we cannot miss that Jesus demonstrates the Father’s love by telling us stories of the lost. Who is He speaking of…the lost? See, contrary to what you may believe, the lost is not a label and it’s not a category. It’s just a description and, let’s be very clear, the Pharisees were just as lost as the tax collectors and the sinners. They thought God was getting a pretty good deal with them. They followed the law perfectly but missed the heart of God. And, if I’m honest, in my spiritual journey, I could be accused of the same…following the rules but missing the heart.
So, before we unpack the rest of this chapter looking at the Father’s pursuit of the lost, lets stop briefly to identify just who needs to be found. The lost…we are all lost. Lost in our sin, lost in our addictions, lost in our fears, lost in our worries, lost in ourselves or maybe even lost in our religion. We are all lost and in desperate need of a savior. We all, just like the Pharisees, tax collectors and the sinners, need the friendship, acceptance, love and grace given by this savior, Jesus. This realization, once again, brought me to my knees in repentance over my list of who’s who and leveled the playing field of the lost ones.
As we will see, the Father continually pursues the lost ones…you and me. He loves you more than you will ever know and his quest for you is never ending. So come as you are, sit at the table and eat with the Father. For what was lost is now found.