So he told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that 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 his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’
Luke 15:3-7 is the start of three very familiar parables, all pointing to God’s yearning after those who are lost. I think it’s really easy for me to get caught up in my everyday life, confident of my salvation, and forget that I am one of those 99 sheep. I’m safe. I’m secure. I’m part of the fold. But somewhere out there is a lost sheep, one that has wandered off… I rarely think about those.
Over the past year I’ve been involved in a discipleship huddle, a group that specifically focuses on growing as disciples of Jesus. One of the things we talked about a LOT was finding balance in our Up, In, and Out activities. Up is my relationship with God. I get a lot of that time in my life and in my work as a DCE, though sometimes I struggle to find time to spend with Him one-on-one. In is my relationship with other Christians, the other sheep in the pen with me. Again, pretty easy to fit this in since I work for a church. Out is my relationship with those who are not Christians, the lost sheep. Hmm, that one isn’t as easy.
I think sometimes we get trapped between two mindsets as Christians. We either shrink back from doing anything with others, setting ourselves apart from the world and sticking to our Christian cloisters like we’re 12th century monks. Or we throw ourselves into relationships with the sole purpose of bringing those people into relationship with Christ, as though the salvation of their souls was our responsibility. Neither is good.
I’ve been working to just get out there, into places that aren’t church-centered. I’ve been forming new friendships with nonmembers. Are some of them Christian? Yes, but they aren’t my usual Lutheran circle and I’m not friends with them because they are Christian. Rather, I’m learning to form relationships with others so that I am in the world, but not of the world. I let my light shine, but I don’t shine in directly into the eyes of those around me (like blinding someone with a flashlight). The only way I can be a witness in the world is to be in the world. Some of the relationships may turn to talks about faith. Some might not, and that’s ok. I can plant my seeds along the way and continue to listen to what God would have me do. Salvation of souls is His business. I’m just along for the ride, trying my best to go where God is moving.
So how are you doing with Up, In, and Out? Which one is a struggle for you? Which one is easy?