Meeting at church is a joyous time of praise to our God and fellowship with other believers. Some people come and stay, but others fall away like the seed in the parable of the farmer who sowed his seed. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
In Jesus' parable of the lost sheep, the Shepherd left ninety-nine sheep in the fold to go in search of one that was lost. Apparently, He felt that those ninety-nine would be safe until His return, but He could not rest until all of them were safely in the fold. It is important to note that the missing one was already a member of the fold, but had wandered away and gotten lost, or possibly even injured. The Shepherd could have just decided that ninety-nine were enough and it would be better to stay and tend to them rather than risk losing another one. After all, new lambs will eventually be born to replace the lost one, anyway. I'm so glad Jesus didn't write me off as a loss on his tax return!
Consider the comparison of the local church pastor and the church members. How many times has someone mentioned that a church member has not been attending? Perhaps there is speculation on the reason that person is absent, but no one actually goes to find out the cause. The heart of the pastor/shepherd is always calling out to the lost sheep to return, but the shepherd can't do it alone. In olden times, shepherds would normally work in groups either looking after one large flock, or each bringing their own and merging their responsibilities. Established Christians need to help in caring for the wounded, the sick, the discouraged and the lambs of the church flock. This is not an overwhelming task if there is a simple plan in place to make sure no one falls through the cracks.
People are often going through rocky times. The winds blow and the floods rush over them, often before they have had time to get their roots down deep. Many people are new Christians and haven't grasped all the spiritual truth of God's Word, truths that will help them to navigate the storms of life. These people need a more mature Christian to come and find them, to encourage them, love them and bring them back into the fold. Even established Christians encounter crisis times of health, grief, finances, tests and trials. It helps to know that someone cares and understands.
An often quoted scripture is II Chronicles 7:14, which says - If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. I've heard this countless times from pastors and Christians, but how many really stop to consider the full meaning of this verse? We, God's people, should turn from our wicked ways. This sounds like that God's people, members of the fold, are sinning. If God's people are sinning, how can we judge those who fall away? How can we not go search for them and help them understand the immeasurable grace of God toward them?
In the parable of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said that anyone who was without sin could cast the first stone. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. Jesus told the woman that He did not condemn her, and to go and sin no more. John 8 KJV
God hates sin, but He loves the sinner. God will not withhold judgement for sin, but He is being patient with us. He does not want anyone to be lost, but He wants all people to change their hearts and lives. II Peter 3 Yes, a dark day of judgement will come for those who do not accept Jesus. So, we must work now while it is day; while the window of opportunity is open to tell people of God's love and offer them hope. The fields of souls are ripe and ready to harvest. John 4:35
It is amazing to me how many people pass through the doors of churches every Sunday, but come only a short while or never return. These people are searching for something, and they have come to the right place. We need to go out and find them. They have left a visitor card with us, so we won't have to look far to bring them to Jesus.
Many people feel uncomfortable knocking on doors to invite people to church or going out into the community to witness to strangers in parking lots or street corners. If a person is unable or unwilling to do that, he can use these visitor cards as leads. These people have made a gesture that shows they have a need. If we call or visit them and they don't respond, when we stand before God, He will say "well done." But, what if they do respond and their lives are changed for the glory of God? What if?!
What if one of those people who has fallen away becomes a rock to bring us strength, faith and courage? Peter denied Jesus three times, but when Jesus rose from the dead, he told the women seeking Him at the tomb to go tell the disciples and Peter that He was going ahead of them into Jerusalem. In spite of Peter's doubt, fear and denial, Jesus called him a rock and said that He would build His church on him!
Christians, take courage and don't be dismayed! God isn't finished with us yet. You might have fallen down, but, though a righteous man falls seven times, the Lord will deliver Him! We might be tired, discouraged or wounded, but we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. So, take courage for yourselves and for those God has called you to minister to. Praise His holy name!
There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold;
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare;
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me.
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry;
’Twas sick and helpless and ready to die.
“Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way,
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They’re pierced tonight by many a thorn.”
And all through the mountains, thunder-riv’n,
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of heav’n,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”
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