Monday, September 13, 2010

Is lost the new normal?

Those who know me well know that I’m not a big fan of cultural theology that proclaims that it doesn’t matter who or what you believe in as long as you believe in someone or something. When someone says all you need to get to heaven is a desire to do good, go green, watch Oprah, love Bono and choose a spiritual path …and any path will do… I’m a tad bit underwhelmed.

All through the Scripture we find God deeply concerned about men and women and even entire nations who act independently of His counsel and direction. And from His perspective God thinks people are lost, like sheep without a shepherd, and needing to be found. And we’re lost because of this thing called Sin that is active and alive and wants to keep us hiding from God and living apart from Him. It has ramifications for eternity and on the current quality of our life. Lost is a big deal. Huge.

I know this about lost. It’s not fun being lost. It’s not fun being called lost. And I’ll do just about anything to make sure I don’t get lost …I’ll even ask for directions (hope I don’t get booted out of the man club). If I could have invested in anything during the past few years it would have been a gps company. Even people who never go anyplace have gps. I mean, they never leave their neighborhood and they’re punching in their destination to go to the same restaurant they’ve gone to every week of their life.

GPS is in because people know that being lost is not fun.

When my family moved to the Chicago area 27 years ago they ventured on the L to go do the loop. They missed their stop and ended up deep on the south side of Chicago. A kindly woman approached my family and after inquiring where they were headed shook her head and said ‘you’re way off course’. And explained how they could get back to the loop. She was very kind, for not only did she give directions, she offered to stand at the station with them because she didn’t consider the stop safe.

Lost is not only not fun but it can also be dangerous.

In the 15th chapter of the Book of Luke Jesus has just finished interacting with Zaccheus, a tax collector. And from the perspective of the religious score keepers of the day and age Jesus has once again done wrong. In their eyes, Zaccheus was a sleezy, slimy guy.. He was a pawn of the Romans and an enemy of his own people. And he was a very obvious slime ball because he was dealing with people’s pocketbooks. And if anything gets people’s attention it’s someone who can impact their personal ‘bottom line’. Some things don’t change.

The religious leaders had this quaint notion that ‘faith’ was for those who toed the line, who kept the rules, who at least attempted to create a façade of righteousness. And then Jesus came along and turned those notions upside down. Not only does he talk with Zaccheus but he hangs out with him and in the process Zaccheus makes some dramatic changes in how he ‘does life’. And then Jesus makes this very dramatic announcement “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

To seek and save the lost. What a personal mission statement, huh? I mean that’s very dramatic. So, let me ask you a question. Do you think people you know are lost? And if they’re lost do they even know it? Do they even care? And should we care about lost people? Could you yourself be a little lost?

I was lost at one time. Didn’t even know I needed a Savior but I did. And then after I met Christ I periodically managed to wander away from Him. Every once in awhile, God has had to come find me again because where I was heading wasn’t good. I was even hiding from God and I needed to be reminded that He loved me.

At times I feel a little bit like Charlie Brown in one of his encounters with Lucy. Lucy comes up to Charlie Brown and does something that is very unusual for her. She says, “I love you.” But Charlie Brown keeps responding by saying, “No, you don’t.” And each time Lucy answers a little louder, “Yes I do, I really love you.”But Charlie Brown has been rejected so many times he keeps saying, “It can’t be true.” So in the last square, Lucy has reached the limit of her patience and she screams out in a loud voice, “Hey stupid, I love you!”

That’s a message God sends me often. And I’m thankful.

Being lost means that you have a problem. You’re not where you’re supposed to be. If it really doesn’t matter where you are and all paths are the right path …why would Jesus care about Zaccheus? Or me? Or you? Because he loves us. We matter to him. Lost people always matter to God.

If someone’s lost, by the way, that doesn’t mean that that person doesn’t contribute to the common good, aren’t fun to hang out with, aren’t moral people, aren’t helpful or are not well read or don’t have great insights, and can’t be pillars of the community. That’s not what it means. It just means that when you’re lost you’re not at ‘home’ with Jesus. You’re living far from God and not being the disciple He wants you to be.

Lost people include those who don’t know they are lost but really are. It includes those who know they are lost but are having such a good time where they are that they don’t want to be found. And it includes those of us were once found but figured out a way to get lost again. Some lost people are notorious sinners and are easy to indentify …bin Laden, Hitler, and Idi Amin come to mind. Others are the kindly school principal, the helpful policeman, and the good Samaritan who helped us when we locked our keys in the car. It doesn’t matter what title they hold or what kindness they do lost is a spiritual condition that manifests itself in a variety of ways. But basically it boils down to living life with God being a stranger. And even really nice people do that. And it’s a problem. For our purpose is to be known by God and to know Him and then to live in a way that says we belong to Him.

Jesus talks about ‘lostness’ in another part of the gospel of Luke. It’s in Luke 19 where Jesus talks about three lost objects – the sheep, the coin, and the son. All represent people who are spiritually lost. According to pastor Tim Keller …”They are lost, yet they are lost in quite different ways. The sheep is lost through foolishness, the coin through thoughtlessness, and the son through willfulness.” It’s a very nuanced look at the problem of sin in a person’s life and how it contributes to getting us lost.

Jesus tells us stories like this to help us understand that lost is both an innate part of the human condition but it’s also due to foolishness, sometimes thoughtlessness, often it’s a willful embrace of another path and sometimes it’s a combination of all three. The end result is that we end up where God didn’t intend for us to be.

Ever feel lost? What takes you off the path? Is it your foolishness, your thoughtlessness, your habit of being inattentive, or are you a stubborn, strong willed person who makes very conscious choices to do your own thing at the expense of experiencing God’s best?

Last week I sat down to talk with a young man I had just met. We met at a conference. He opened up to me and said that he wasn’t doing well spiritually. His disobedience to God was putting him on a perilous path. I mentioned to him that it sounded like he was lost. He said, “Yah man, that’s it. I’m feeling lost.” And he said it with great sadness. I’d love to say that our conversation fixed his life but it didn’t. I don’t know exactly what the disobedience was all about but I’ve got a sense that it was sexual sin. He said, “I’ve got to stand tall. Quit buckling.” And then we were interrupted by the conference and I didn’t see him again. But I couldn’t get over the sadness I saw in his eyes. It’s haunting me even today.
What will it take for him to confess to his foolishness and admit to his stubbornness? Will he be open to being found or will he live in a land called ‘lost’ where his profound sadness will become his new normal?

‘Lost’ is not a good place to be. No matter how we gussy it up and try to make it pretty Jesus is making it very clear that when someone is lost, far from Him, then there is a problem. Heaven wants the lost to be found.


Thomas Scarborough said...

I clicked on Next Blog, which I don't often do, and didn't realise that I'd find myself in the company of a famous blogger. ;-) I'm a minister, too.

Mike said...

Thanks Thomas. Certainly not famous. Glad you're along for the ride.