Luke 15:4-7 (NLT) “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!”
On my daily commute, I pass a small makeshift farm. It started as one pen with a couple sheep. Now it is three pens, several sheep, two herding dogs, and some chicken coops. Recently, there were several lambs born with one that is solid black. The sheep and Great Pyrenes are solid white so the little guy sticks out like a sore thumb with its raven-colored coat. Every day I slow down to look for the black sheep. But as of late, the little one is not among the flock.
Today, I am acutely aware of the black sheep. I am part of a blended family. My parents each brought two children to their union. I have a very tangled family tree so we will stay on this side of it for now. My sister was very young and my biological father adopted her when she was just two years old. My bonus mom as one might call her also had a son. He did not embrace the new family quite so much and gravitated toward his own father and his side of the family. He might even be called a black sheep of sorts. Life for him was very difficult and his struggle very real. He loved the Lord, but had his own wilderness moments along the way. He passed away yesterday. I am sad. Although he was not as closely knit into our family as my brother and sister – I am sad for him. He died feeling that he was a black sheep. He felt like a disgrace who was ostracized. Not because he was not loved and cherished by his family, the enemy wrapped him in up in a lie that would cause him to stumble in life many times.
The tragic news of his death has haunted me. I see black sheep all the time. From the actual animal to the people who wander through life never experiencing the Love of God and all His Fullness. The inability to fully grasp and understand the completeness of God’s Grace and Goodness that He has just for them. Caught up in comparison, tangled in lies and stumbling over stupid things – they wander through life never really knowing, understanding or fully comprehending that which is pursuing them. Have we as Christians and believers contributed in some way? Setting conditions on love and acceptance that God never truly intended? To distance ourselves from the lost, wandering and broken afraid it is contagious? To gravitate toward success avoiding those who represent failure? To forget that we too were once the one lost sheep who was carried home by our Savior?
Matthew 18:12-14 (MSG) “Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.”
Where is the celebration when a simple believer is born? When the one who was lost wanders to the altar of our churches? Do we embrace them as they are? Or do we mandate a grace of change from imperfect to perfect in an instant? The Blood of Jesus covers our sin. Over time the Word begins to wash us clean including old wounds. A black sheep cannot change the color of its fur. It is still a sheep. The DNA the same it just looks different. You can shear it a hundred times and its coat will remain black. However, as Christians caught up in religion, we get so bent on changing people to meet our expectations and mandates of doctrine that we forget to love them just as they are. Love is not mean. It is not unkind. It is forgiving. Accepting. Affirming. This is the kind of love that allows the Lord to work out salvation and complete the transforming power offered through Jesus Christ. Where are the beloveds? The Love of God is unconditional. It loves with powerful passion even when it is not wanted or reciprocated. The Perfection of God meets us in our imperfection and loves us just the same. I don’t think we get that. If we did – people would flock to our services to encounter such love – no pun intended.
I Peter 2:25 (NLT) Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.
The example of Jesus Christ is to be a guardian of souls. Our Shepherd is the Guardian of our souls. Guardian means defender, protector and keeper. The one who looks after and is responsible for someone. My mission in life must be to seek the sheep and CARRY them home. It doesn’t say that when he found the sheep that he beat it severely, reprimanded it harshly, or any other form of punishment. It says, “and when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.” He did not wait for the sheep to come to him, but the true shepherd searches for the sheep. He pursues the one that is lost. Religion will only separate and divide unless it becomes about relationship. I tried to change a thousand times going to church and following everyone’s instructions. Yet I still wandered into the wilderness of life, I made countless mistakes. I let God down and failed Him faithfully. When I came back to the Lord, He didn’t berate me. In fact, He wooed me. He loved me. He filled me with more love and grace than I ever thought possible. When I fell in love with Jesus – all the hypocrites and haters didn’t matter anymore. I found love. Unconditional and unfathomable love. It is from that I have learned to love others without expectation. I find that I gravitate toward black sheep and embrace them because I was once lost and now I am found.
My heart is heavy today. I am sad that my brother has passed. I believe that Jesus mercifully came and set him free. I grieve the relationship that could have been and never will be. I am pressed to consider my love for others today. Do I look for the lost sheep as I do the little black sheep each day? Do I show unconditional love to those who are wandering? When they do come to church – are they met with celebration or more condemnation? God don’t let that be me. Fill my heart with the love and compassion that you have for each us. The kind of love and commitment that leaves the ninety-nine to pursue the one. Lord, let my response be rejoicing as I carry them home. Forgive me Jesus for the forgotten ones. Those who I turned a blind eye to or just walked around. All the times that I judged someone for not living up to my convictions or pursuing them with anything but unconditional love. Teach me Holy Spirit to be a guardian of souls. To rejoice over the sinner more than the saints. Be my example Lord for you are the Good Shepherd.
John 10:9-11 (NLT) Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”