Throughout history, many Christians have temporarily drifted away from the faith, only to return after a time “in the desert.” Times are different now. Research shows that today’s Christians are leaving and not, on their own accord, coming back. Why are they leaving? What or who will bring them back? What role do we play in this? Find out in today’s message.
Most of us are familiar with the stories of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son, contained in Luke 15:1-32. Today I want to focus on the first two. Very often we have seen ourselves as the coin or the sheep, and we have seen Jesus as the one who finds us. It lifts our spirit to know that if we become lost, Jesus will be relentless in His pursuit to find us and bring us to safety.
Many verses contain more than one message. After years of understanding a Bible verse one way, we can suddenly gain new insights if we read it through fresh lenses. Today I want to challenge everyone to look at the parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep from a fresh new perspective.
Let’s begin by looking to see who Jesus was addressing the message to. We read this, “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So, to them he addressed this parable.”
Jesus was addressing His message to the Pharisees, who as the spiritual leaders of their people, had a responsibility to look after everyone entrusted to their care, especially those most in need. Yet it seems clear that the Pharisees shunned the downtrodden, the sinners, and the sick, blind, and lame. Is it possible that Jesus was pointing out to the Pharisees that they were responsible for “losing” these people to begin with? Was Jesus pointing out to them that they were the shepherds who were responsible to go out in search of the lost sheep and they were responsible for getting down on their knees to search for the lost coin? Is it possible that He is pointing the same thing out to us?
It is from this perspective that I will proceed. Let’s examine how the coin and the sheep became lost in the first place, and then, let’s look to see who has the responsibility to find them and bring them back.
Coins are inanimate objects that cannot lose themselves and sheep are naturally inclined to stray, therefore they need a shepherd to watch after them. From this understanding, can we further agree that the woman was the one who lost the coin, and the shepherd was responsible for losing the sheep?
Research confirms that more and more Christians are not practicing their faith. Studies reveal a long list of reasons why people leave their faith, stop attending church, or completely stop believing in God. Here are a few of the reasons:
- They were hurt in some way by a fellow Christian.
- They felt God was missing from their experience of church.
- They feel Christians are too confident, acting as if they have all of the answers.
- They see other Christians disregarding Church teachings about abortion, homosexuality, and birth control, so they disregard them too.
- They have felt put down by Christians when they admitted that sometimes Christianity does not make sense to them.
These are just a few of the myriad of reasons people wander away from their faith. Most of us have a friend or family member who has left the Church. With our fresh new perspective on Luke’s Gospel story, can we summon the courage to ask ourselves this hard question, “What role did I individually play, and what role did the Church collectively play in running someone away from the Christian faith?”
You might be thinking, wait a minute, the Church could have done everything right and we could have individually done everything right and some would have still walked away. That supposition falls short because each of us is a sinner and collectively the Church is made up entirely of sinners, so we never do everything right! We continually make mistakes. And when we do, and when we fail to act with the heart and mind of Christ, or when others see us sin, we may be pushing people away from God. We have lost some of the coins and sheep entrusted to us. While we may not be fully responsible when people leave, are we willing to accept the possibility that we might share in some culpability?
If we accept the possibility that we may have had some culpability in people leaving the faith, can we also accept the fact that it is now up to us to follow in The Good Shepherds footsteps by going out after the lost?
Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and others Christian Churches have tried many new things, and in some circumstance have even reverted to older styles of worship all in an attempt to win people back. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with any of these approaches, however, personally I think they fall short of the mark.
If we want to bring people back two things must happen. First, we must individually, and collectively as the Church, look in the mirror and do a serious examination of our role in causing Christians to leave the faith to begin with. Next, we must be willing to evangelize.
We must willingly go out to find those lost, hurting, broken, or disillusioned people and personally bring them back to Jesus. We must be willing to be Christ to them. We need to go out to meet them where they are with a loving and caring heart. We have all seen the picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd carrying the lost sheep back on His shoulders. Now, with this new perspective on Luke’s Gospel, we must begin to see ourselves as a shepherd who is called to carry someone back to Christ on our shoulders.
Heavenly Father, please forgive me if I have ever directly or indirectly been the cause of someone leaving the faith. Embolden me to go out, seeking the lost and broken to share the truth of Jesus with them. Grant me words of wisdom and the heart of your Son and the strength to carry them back to you on my shoulders. Amen!
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