I headed out to jog the other day, excited about the sunshine and warm Colorado weather, when a large, brown Labrador began to follow me. More accurately, I followed him but could not get him to leave me in peace. He ran just a tad in front of me and would veer into my side or stop, forcing me to run around him and begin the process once again. This continued for several miles. The dog's loud panting concerned me. Was he thirsty or just out of shape? I was a bit irritated and yearned for quiet and space, and yet, I feared that the dog was lost. Several trucks drove down the country road, and I waved them over to inquire about possible owners - to no avail.
The story of the lost sheep popped into my head. Jesus told this parable when the pharisees complained about the time Christ spent socializing with sinners. In the parable, Jesus shares about the forgiveness He extends to sinners such as you and me.
"Then Jesus told them this parable: 'Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep." I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.'" (Luke 15: 3-7)
This parable commences with a sheep, not a Labrador, who strays from his home. Any of us who is not in Christ, not abiding in the Word, not rooted in the Vine, not spending time in prayer...strays from his intended home. Apart from God, we are all lost. We don't even know our purpose in life without God. Each of us has sinned (Romans 3:23) and yet, because of Christ's sacrifice for us on the cross, we are healed and made new. We can become in Christ what we could never be without him - healed, righteous and saved.
The shepherd in this story is not irritated at us as I was at the dog who accompanied me. Jesus, a compassionate shepherd, values and loves each sinner who has gone astray. Christ's love for us led Him to die on a cross and take on the punishment that we, sinners, deserve to bear. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2: 24-25)
Like the shepherd in the parable, Christ rejoices when we find our way back to Him. He is the Good Shepherd who saves us, His lost sheep.
By the way, I did eventually help the Labrador find his way home. As I returned on the original path I had taken, we passed a little yellow house with a white picket fence. Inside the fenced yard played a little boy, no older than 7. I asked him if he knew whose dog this was still panting at my side. "That's my dog," he nonchalantly replied. He had not been concerned that the dog was lost. Evidently, the dog must frequently wander away from home. The young boy came around and brought the dog back into the yard with him, acting as if this were a regular occurrence.
Apart from You, I am lost. Keep me close to You so that I can be the person You created me to be. Thank You that You are my Good Shepherd who continues to find me when I go astray. In Jesus' Name. Amen.