A while back, I saw the story of a man who was discussing his childhood. He revealed the fact that he had been brought up in a family that attended church fairly regularly. As this boy grew older, he became inquisitive about things of faith, the Bible, and the concept of God. His inquiries took a darker tone of skepticism, and he challenged the belief system being taught at his church. I would love to say that the leadership of that church reached out to him, and tried to guide him in a path to faith. According to his account, that was not what happened…
The adult leaders in the church sent him home, and asked his parents not to bring him back. This man is now a very outspoken atheist who mocks the existence of God, the accounts of the Bible, and the idea of faith.
Such a sad story. As a pastor for nearly five decades, I wish I could say that this story was an isolated incident. I wish I could say that such things happen so seldom that it can merely be defined as an anomaly. It’s just not the case.
The fact is that this story is repeated all too often, and often with much more tragic results. We all have a desire to belong, but for the formative years of adolescence, this time is critical in developing peer groups, self-worth, and core belief systems. Children gravitate to acceptance. The desire to be loved and accepted can never be discounted or marginalized. For everyone, that desire looks a little different. In schools, the outlet to fit in takes the form of clubs, special interest groups and elective classes such as music, art, etc. In schools and rec leagues, young people participate in sports because of mutual interests, camaraderie, and the desire to be a part of a team. We all want to belong.
The church has something for everyone, and all are accepted. Unfortunately, oftentimes our actions don’t bear out this fact. Sometimes, we don’t reach out to everyone the way we should. Sometimes, people fall through the cracks. Sometimes, someone leaves the church and their absence goes — for weeks — unnoticed. Sometimes we categorize people based on social standing, stereotype, or limited perception, and never take the time to find out who the person inside really is.
I have a friend who spent many of his school years in Christian schools. He once told me that some of the kids who acted out the most, and were the ones most often in trouble, were the preachers’ kids. Sometimes, the ones who we think should be the examples of obedience and Godliness are the ones struggling the most with acceptance and trying to deal with the unrealistic expectations of others. I know the struggles my own children faced being “preacher’s kids”. There is no “yellow brick road” of ease promised to any of us, regardless of our lot in life. Our struggles may look different, but they are struggles nonetheless. Anyone from any strata of society can be “The One”.
So how do we deal with it? In the end, does God put those we helped in one column, and those we lost in another, and if the gains outnumber the losses, we’re ok in His eyes? Is our success ratio the golden standard? Do we write off “acceptable losses”, and pat ourselves on the back for the majority we kept in the fold?
Not according to the Bible. In Luke 15, Jesus tells us a story…
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
To the Good Shepherd, all of his sheep were of equal importance. To him, there was not an acceptable win/loss ratio. To him, getting back the one was just as important as staying put with the ninety-nine, and making sure they were ok. For many of us, we would focus and feel good about the ninety-nine we saved. To the Good Shepherd, however, his focus was on the one… any loss was unacceptable.
In the movie Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler is saying goodbye to the Jews he saved. The Jews had made him a gold ring. On it was an inscription from the Talmud that read, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” As Schindler begins to speak, he breaks down in tears…
Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more.
Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Schindler: If I’d made more money… I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just…
Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
Schindler: I didn’t do enough!
Stern: You did so much.
Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.
Schindler: This pin (referring to Nazi party pin). Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. He would have given me one. One more… One more person. A person, Stern. For this… I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t! And I… I didn’t! (breaks down sobbing)
Friend, when was the last time you mourned for the lost? When was the last time your heart broke for those emotionally wounded and bleeding souls who came across your path — possibly through the doors of your church — and left untouched and unchanged? For the Good Shepherd, his reaction was immediate. He didn’t wait until it was convenient. He didn’t wait until he had gotten the ninety-nine to the safety of a barn or pen; the Bible says that he left the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and went after the one. I think the Good Shepherd understood that time was of the essence, and saving the one depended upon his deliberate and swift action.
So who is the one for you? Who is the one that God has put in your path that needs a friend, an advocate, or a Saviour? We may say, “The mistake people make is judging Jesus by His followers.” That is true. However, as His followers, it doesn’t let us off the hook of trying to be like Him, and love people the way He does.
Look around you today.
Identify The One.
Go after them. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Listen to them. Talk to them. Make a difference in their life.