From the Pastor's Desk 

Lost and Found

11-11-18

 

            Let's pray.

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            Well, we have finally come to the end of our 30-day church challenge.  This morning during our worship service and then again tonight in our Bible study, we will be studying the fifth and last purpose of the church that is found for us in Acts chapter 2.  As we have said numerous times, when all is said and done my hope and prayer is that we will all begin to view the church not just as a place to come, but that we will actually become the church.

            The church should be more than just an option for something to do on Sunday morning.  The church is a life-changing organization that God uses to help us become more like His Son.  This is the place where we gather to worship Almighty God simply for who He is.  This is the place where we can experience the love, joy, peace and fulfillment that comes from doing God's will in our lives.

            The first purpose of the church that we looked at is community.  It is vitally important that we are all part of an authentic community of faith where we can personally experience love, encouragement and support.  The challenge that we made concerning community was that we commit to joining a small group or class, if you haven't already done so, where you can experience authentic community.

            The second purpose we dealt with is worship.  We learned that we are wired for worship.  According to Romans 12:1, worship is a verb that should touch all aspects of our lives throughout the week as well as on Sundays.  Our challenge concerning worship was for us to commit to coming to the worship service every week.  We were also challenged to give all of our lives; our everyday, ordinary, sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around lives; and give it all to God as an act of worship.

            Purpose number three is spiritual growth.  We discussed that life is about growth and growth is about transformation.  As we walk with the Lord the Holy Spirit works in us to make us more like Jesus Christ.  The challenge we made was for us to spend time with God every day for the next 21 days.  That's how long they say it takes to develop a habit.  We encouraged you to start reading Scripture if you're not already.  Read one chapter a day starting in John.  We also encouraged everyone to spend at least a few minutes in prayer each day.  Praying involves worshiping God, expressing thanks, confessing sins and lifting up other requests.  If you're already doing those things, we challenged you to do more; to go further; to go deeper.

            Last week we looked at purpose number four.  That purpose is stewardship.  We are commanded by God in Scripture to be good stewards, or good managers of all that we have in life.  That would include our time, our talents and our treasures.  The challenge was for us to commit to increasing our stewardship through giving and serving.  If you're not giving, start giving like God wants you to.  If you're not serving, start serving in some capacity.  If you're already giving, try to give more; if you're already serving, seek ways to serve a little bit more. 

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            This morning, we are going to look at the fifth and the last purpose of the church, which is outreach.  Open your Bibles now and please turn with me to Acts, chapter 2.  All five of the purposes we find for the church are found in the description in this chapter of the first church.  Let's all read together now verses 42-47. 

            We see in that last sentence of this passage the remarkable result of what the very first church was doing on a daily basis.  Or should we more accurately say we see in that last sentence of this passage the remarkable result of what God was doing on a daily basis in and through the early church.  God was daily adding to their numbers.  Notice that it wasn't transfer growth they were experiencing; it also wasn't shallow, superficial involvement in that church.  The Lord was adding daily those who were being saved.  People were miraculously being saved and forgiven through God's sovereign work of salvation and forgiveness in their lives.

            We know that God always has been and always will be in the soul saving business.  That will never stop.  But for our purposes here today we need to ask:  what was happening during this time from a human standpoint?  What were the people of this first church doing in order to be able to join God in the work He was doing?

            There certainly would have been some fun exciting, life-changing worship services taking place.  People would have been drawn to this church because of their devotion, their unity and their generosity.  But there was also probably something else going on.  I think we can reasonably guess that the people of this church were talking to their friends and family who were outside the church about the exciting things going on through their congregation.  This church was no doubt engaging in outreach. 

            Do I even need to connect the dots for us this morning?  It is imperative that we as a congregation do our part in bringing lost people to Jesus Christ.  We are not the Holy Spirit; we don't convict people; we don't save people; we don't change hearts and forgive sins.  But God does use us as His vessels to communicate the truth about the gospel message.  Scripture tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  People need to hear the truth of the Word of God.  That is our responsibility; that is our role; that is what God wants us to do.

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            To help us better understand how God feels about lost people, we're going to look at a couple of parables that Jesus told that are found for us in Luke 15.  Jesus' audience as He told these stories was the Jewish religious leaders.  They were proud and arrogant and didn't think that it was right that Jesus spent time with tax collectors and other so-called sinful people.  So Jesus set out to share with them and with others who might have been listening and us today, how God really feels about people separated from God because of their un-confessed, unrepentant, un-forgiven sin.            

            We can sum up God's reaction towards the salvation of sinners in one word:  joy.  Joy is an often over-looked character trait of God's.  Thinking of a joyful God isn't easy for us to comprehend.  We kind of get stuck with this idea that God is some sort of wrathful, vengeful God who is ready and willing to strike us down at any moment.  Although reality should help us understand that is not true.  If God was the type of God who struck down folks who disobeyed Him, we would all be struck down dead.  But we see in Scripture that there is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner is saved.  That rejoicing would include God.

            We see that joy of God's revealed to us in this chapter.  The first parable we find here is the parable of the lost sheep.  That is found for us in Luke 15:3-7.  In the first two parables, Jesus begins by asking a rhetorical question.  Here, He asks, "What man among you..."  This first story involves poor peasants in a village setting.

            The man caring for the 100 sheep probably did not own all of them.  At that time, villages would have often consolidated their sheep into large flocks and hire shepherds from the lower end of the village's social structure to take care of them.  Caring for sheep was the lowest of the legitimate occupations.  Shepherds were uneducated and unskilled and were viewed as dishonest, unreliable and unsavory.  Sheep had to be cared for seven days a week so the shepherds were unable to fully comply with the Pharisees' man-made Sabbath regulations.  That meant they were ceremonially unclean.

            For Jesus to ask the scribes and Pharisees to imagine themselves in the role of a shepherd was insulting.  No Pharisee would demean himself by becoming a shepherd, not even hypothetically in an imaginary story.  As Jesus begins this parable, He once again attacks the religious leaders overwhelming pride.

            As the story opens, the shepherds had lost one of the sheep.  This was a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation.  Sheep are defenseless and unable to take care of themselves.  Losing one of the sheep was therefore a serious situation which called for immediate action.  It was the shepherd's duty to leave the 99 in the open pasture under the care of the other shepherds helping him and go after the one that was lost until he found it.  Having found the lost sheep, the shepherd laid it on his shoulders and started on the long, difficult journey home carrying the heavy animal.

            The sheep's safe return was celebrated.  The scribes and Pharisees would have loathed being a shepherd, but they would have understood the monetary value of the sheep and would have grasped the joyous celebration that would have ensued when the lost sheep was found.  They would have agreed ethically that the shepherd's pursuit of the lost sheep was his obligation.

            Then the Lord delivered His application and He does that by contrasting the religious leaders with God.  God is compassionate, caring and loving.  He rejoices at the recovery of lost sinners.  The scribes and Pharisees on the other hand, were none of those things.  They were indifferent to the plight of the lost.  They claimed to officially represent God yet they did not understand His mission or share His joy at the recovery of lost sinners.  These religious leaders lived within the narrow confines of superficiality and triviality while all around them souls were perishing.  They were hypocrites and false shepherds.

            We need to make sure that our hearts are not hard like the scribes and Pharisees.  We need to share God's love and compassion for those who are lost and dying and going to hell without Jesus.  It's easy in today's culture to get caught up in superficiality and triviality.  It's easy to be apathetic and indifferent towards lost souls.  We tend to be that way because we are selfish are only thinking of ourselves.  If we're like that we also are hypocrites and false apostles who do not know or understand God's heart.

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            The second parable that Jesus tells here is the parable of the lost coin.  That is found for us in Luke 15:8-10.  There are some similarities between this parable and the first one.  They both take place in a village setting.  In both there is a poor person of low social standing facing a major crisis.  In this case, it is a woman who lost a coin of great value. 

            This parable also begins with Jesus asking a question.  "Or what woman..."  If the scribes and Pharisees were insulted that Jesus asked them to think like a shepherd, it would have been even more insulting to them to imagine themselves in the place of a woman.  Society at that time was male-dominated and women were deemed insignificant and not worthy of respect. 

            The parable describes a woman who had lost one of her ten silver coins.  It was probably a coin worth a day's wages for a common laborer.  That may not seem like much to us, but it would have been a lot back then.  They lived in a bartering society, where money was not used as frequently as in most modern societies, so a relatively small coin would have been a significant loss.

            The money may have been some sort of emergency fund that the woman had set aside in case she needed it for something.  It's also highly likely that the ten coins represented the woman's dowry, given to her as a wedding gift by her father and providing security for the future.

            However it was that she came to lose the coin, she went to whatever lengths she needed in order to find it.  Finally, to her great joy, she found the missing coin.  To celebrate, she called together her female friends and neighbors.  People in a small, tight-knit village would share each other's sufferings and joys, so a party celebrating the woman's joy at recovering what she had lost would have been appropriate.

            The Pharisees would have agreed that what she had done was necessary under the circumstances.  All would agree that having lost a significant sum of money, there was nothing else to do but diligently search for it until it was found.  Again, the Pharisees failed to make the connection between their contemptuous disdain for lost souls and God's passionate concern for them.

            The Lord's criticism of the scribes and Pharisees was clear and it was inescapable.  How could they affirm that it was the right thing for the shepherd to search for a lost sheep and a woman to search for a lost coin, but condemn Jesus for seeking to recover lost souls?  How could they understand the joys of the humble men and women in a village over temporal recovery and utterly fail to comprehend the joy of God in heaven over eternal salvation?

            I think the theological and spiritual applications are pretty clear.  The woman represents God in Christ seeking lost sinners in the cracks, dust and debris of a dirty world of sin.  He initiated the search for those sinners who belong to Him through His sovereign choice of them, since they can do nothing on their own.  Jesus came all the way from heaven to earth to search for His lost ones, pursuing sinners into every dark corner and then shining the light of the glorious gospel on them.  Having found the lost sinner, God in Christ restores him or her to His heavenly treasury, and then expresses joy in which the holy inhabitants of heaven share. 

            Recovering the lost requires costly grace.  The sinless Son of God became a man, lived with sinners, bore God's wrath for sin on the cross and rose in triumph from the grave.  None of the false gods of the world's religions are like the true and living God, who seeks and saves unworthy sinners because He values them as His own; who makes His enemies His friends for the sheer joy that He receives in saving them. 

            Are you willing to spend costly grace on your part in order to be used of God to help recover the lost?  Do you share God's love of people enough to share the gospel?  Do you value life to the point where you will do what you need to in order to see people enter a right relationship with God through faith in Christ?  Or are you so proud and arrogant that you don't care about others as long as you're OK spiritually?

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            That brings us to our fifth and final challenge of this 30-day church challenge.  The challenge is this:  to care about what Jesus cares about and do something to find the missing and invite them home. 

            There are a number of things that we can all do to help fulfill this week's challenge.  One thing that would be good for all of us to do would be to make sure that we're praying for the lost.  Pray for their salvation and their forgiveness.  Pray that God would work in their lives and draw them to Himself.

            In addition, pray for yourself.  Pray that you will be effective witnesses.  Pray that you will take advantage of the opportunities that you have to touch someone's life spiritually.  Here is one sample prayer that you could pray.  "God give me your heart for the lost."  That isn't hard to memorize; it wouldn't take long to pray, but it is the kind of heart attitude that we all need to develop if we're going to be effective at helping God reach this world for Jesus.

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            A second step that we could all take is to invite someone to church next week.  When is the last time that you invited someone to attend church with you?  What is it in your life that is keeping you from doing that?  Are you afraid of rejection?  We all are, aren't we?  Are you ashamed of the church?  That's easily fixed.  Those aren't valid excuses for not extending an invitation to someone. 

            They say that a high percentage of un-churched are open to going to church with someone if they are invited.  Wouldn't it be awesome if we doubled our attendance next week because we all invited someone to come with us?  Why couldn't that happen?  Is God not big enough?  Is He not working in people's lives?  Do we doubt Him and not believe that He even wants to do something like that?

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            The third step that we could take is the hardest one and the very thing that most Christians do not want to do.  Share the gospel with somebody this week.  Talk to someone about their relationship with Jesus Christ.  Tell them what you know; share with them what He did for you in your life when you were saved.  Obviously inviting them to church can be and should be a part of that gospel presentation.  But only inviting to church may not be enough.

            I know that most of us would prefer to not to witness and even not to invite someone to come with us.  But whether we like it or not and whether we want to do it or not, we have been given the task of outreach.  God wants to use us to help reach the world for Jesus Christ.  If we share His love and His compassion for lost sinners, we will do the best we can to fulfill our role in saving souls.

            So as our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to respond to Gods' working in your life.  Maybe you need to join the church; or be baptized; or re-dedicate your life; maybe it's just praying at the altar.  Maybe someone here this morning needs to publicly commit to accepting the challenge that we issued today, or one of the other challenges that we have issued this past month.  Whatever it is, we invite you to respond to God's leading as we stand and as we sing.

 

            Prayer.