Why we should celebrate when the lost get found

Yesterday, I posted about my stupid cat Gremlin and her ridiculous idea to hide her two kittens (affectionately known as The Ponds” in reference to the companions from Doctor Who seasons 5, 6, and 7) in the gigantic, garbage-filled dumpster in my driveway. My dad and I despaired of ever getting them out because they were way way back in the back, buried under trash and broken furniture, and all sorts of old things.

Gremlin hid them there because she thought it would be safe, but what she didn’t know is that the dumpster is leaving for the landfill this morning. And if Dad and I couldn’t rescue the kittens, they’d be shipped off alone to the garbage dump.

So what did Dad do? He jumped into the dumpster, trash and all, and sifted and sorted and climbed around trying to get the kittens out. He tried a couple of times while I was at work, but he didn’t have any luck. We weren’t sure what to do.

I wanted to try one more time when I got home. So I got home, changed out of my work clothes, and Dad and I climbed back into the dumpster. And just being goofy for the sake of it, I called out: “Hello, Ponds!” (in true Doctor Who fashion). And what do you think happened?

You guessed it. They popped right out. Pond (just Pond) ran right up to me, and Rory got stuck (so much like his namesake) and I had to fish him out. But we got them both free, and they’re perfectly fine.

The Ponds, an earlier photo because their mother has hidden them again (just not in the dumpster)

The Ponds, an earlier photo because their mother has hidden them again (just not in the dumpster)

Today’s verses are Luke 15:4-7.
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!

I actually told God on the way home from work that if He helped us get the kittens out, I’d post this passage. This is a story that Jesus tells, and it’s actually the first of a trilogy. The first is about a sheep. The second is about a coin. The third is about a son–the Prodigal Son. It’s all in this chapter, and it’s all about finding what you’ve lost and rejoicing about it.

Have you been there before? I mean, put yourself in that shepherd’s sandals for a moment. You’ve got 100 sheep, and one of them wanders off. Gets lost. Sheep tend to do that. Would you let it go? Would you ignore it?

If you aren’t a shepherd, you might. But if sheep are your livelihood, you aren’t going to let one wander off, even if you have 99 others. Not while you can do something about it.

Sort of like this deal with the kittens. I have two cats already, Barney and Gremlin. They’re both a ton of fun and provide hours of entertainment and companionship. So it shouldn’t matter if I leave two kittens to die, right? I have two others.

If you’ve got pets, you probably cringed. No way could I abandon two kittens in a garbage dumpster when I have the power to do something about it. Not even if I have two others. Because it’s not about the other two who are already safe. It’s about the two who aren’t safe.

Isn’t that how God sees Christians? He loves us. We’re His children. He gave His Son so we could have a relationship with Him. But not every Christian lives the kind of life they should. Some wander off and get lost in the world, and those of us who don’t–the ones who stay behind like good little sheep–sometimes write them off. But God doesn’t. And we shouldn’t either.

God is just as keen to seek out His children who wander off as He is to stay with His children who stick around. And as much as He rejoices when one of them comes home, we ought to rejoice just as much.

When’s the last time you truly rejoiced when a Christ-follower came home after a time of wandering? Did you actually rejoice? Or did you just look down your nose and judge them? Did you give them the cold shoulder? Did you hold their past over their heads and snub them?

That’s not how God treats them. God rejoices when they come home. God went out of His way to bring them home. So we ought to celebrate, because He sure isn’t being quiet about it.

He rejoices when the lost are found again. So we should too. If you can’t get happy about that, you’re focusing on the wrong thing.

You can be safe and still live dangerously

What do you do when something frightens you? When you get scared, how do you react? When I get scared or anxious, I usually get quiet. Terse. More intense than usual. I guess I’m just focusing really hard on what I need to do to avoid more trouble.

Like when a storm is coming. I turn the weather radio on. Or I turn on the weather station to check the radar so I know if I’m in the path of the severe stuff or not. I kind of do that in life too.

When I get nervous or scared in life, I hunker down and look for a safe place to hide. But is hiding what we’re supposed to do?

The 40 cubic yard dumpster at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The 40 cubic yard dumpster at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Nehemiah 6:10-15.

Later I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home. He said, “Let us meet together inside the Temple of God and bolt the doors shut. Your enemies are coming to kill you tonight.” But I replied, “Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it!” I realized that God had not spoken to him, but that he had uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. Then they would be able to accuse and discredit me.

Right this moment, there is a 40-cubic-yard dumpster sitting in the driveway at the farm. This thing is massive. You can drive a car into it. And my parents and I have been in the process of filling it up after two weeks of intense deep cleaning at the farm.

It’s been great to have it there. We don’t have to carry trash into town to dump it. We can just toss it into the dumpster. But we’ve run into a complication we didn’t expect.

Gremlin, the wonder cat (not because she’s amazing but because she’s so dumb we wonder how she’s still alive), had a litter of kittens a few weeks back. Five total. Two have survived, loud little gingers. She had them in the flower bed by the house for a little while, which was nice because they were accessible. But Gremlin must have decided we were a bad influence or something because she picked them up and moved them—into the dumpster.

Not just inside the door. Not on the edge. Deep DEEP into the dumpster. Way far back where we can’t see them, can’t reach them, and can barely hear them. And they sure can’t find their way out.

Undoubtedly, dummy Gremlin was just trying to keep her kittens safe. I understand that. That’s what every mother wants, isn’t it? But what Gremlin didn’t know is that the dumpster isn’t staying there. In fact, the dumpster gets picked up to be taken to the landfill tomorrow morning, and if we can’t get to the kittens, they’re going to end up in the landfill (if the shifting of the garbage in the dumpster doesn’t squish them before they make it).

I’m actually pretty upset about this, but it just seemed to parallel life too well to avoid using it as an example.

How many times have we run for a safe place that didn’t actually turn out to be safe at all? How many times have we learned that it would have been better to face trouble head on instead of retreating?

Being safe is great. I like being safe. But do we really know what safe is? How do we know that what we think is safe today won’t be shipping off to the landfill tomorrow, where we’ll be in even bigger trouble than we were before?

The point is this: When trouble crosses your path, don’t hide from it. When you retreat and run away and try to ignore the problems, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. You might actually be making more.

If you want to be safe, you need to be walking right beside God. That’s the safest place you can be. Granted, maybe that means you’ll end up walking in a storm or walking on water or walking on water in a storm, and none of those sound safe. But they will be. Because God will be with you.

You can be scared and still act. That’s called courage. You can be anxious and still take a risk. That’s called faith. You can be safe and still live dangerously. That’s called following Christ.

PS: For an update on what happened with the kitties, check back tomorrow!

Awesome fried chicken given to me for lunch, San Miguel, Peten, Guatemala

If it doesn’t cost money, does that make it free?

My random desk calendar shared a bit of wisdom with me yesterday that I don’t really agree with. The best things in life are free.

Are they really? I mean, I understand what it means. It means that the best parts of life can’t be purchased with money. But just because something doesn’t cost money doesn’t make it free. Everything costs something.

Awesome fried chicken given to me for lunch, San Miguel, Peten, Guatemala

Awesome fried chicken given to me for lunch, San Miguel, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Joshua 24:11-15.

When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. And I sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them. “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve.

It’s easy sometimes to forget all that God has done for us. I’m guilty of it. I get to thinking about how hard I’ve worked and what a good person I’ve been, and then I almost convince myself that I deserve the good things in my life because I’ve worked so hard to achieve them.

And I’m not knocking hard work. Hard work is essential. And when you work hard, it’s natural to reap the benefits of your work. But there’s a fine line between earning a reward and deserving a reward, and we should never forget that we don’t deserve God’s grace. We can’t work for God’s grace. We can’t earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple.

But Christians can grow big heads about grace, which is ironic because nobody can earn it. But we think we can. We live a good life, so we think we deserve it. Maybe we’d never say it out loud, but deep down in our hearts, that’s what we think sometimes.

Loosen that halo up, brothers and sisters. I can’t be the only one guilty of this. Maybe I am, but I don’t think so.

It’s that tiny little voice that whispers to you, reminding you of all the good things you’ve done and that you have a right to expect good things and that if God is who He says He is He won’t let anything bad happen to you because you’re such a good Christian.

I think everyone hears that voice, but it’s up to us whether or not to listen to it.

See that’s what happened to the children of Israel after God delivered them from Egypt. I think they got comfortable. They got used to the luxury of living in the Promised Land, and they forgot to be thankful. They forgot who it was who had provided for them.

God brought them victory. It wasn’t their soldiers or their battle tactics or their generals. They weren’t particularly fearsome. They weren’t particularly bright. But they triumphed because God was on their side. And then God gave them homes they didn’t build and crops they hadn’t planted, provided everything they needed, and they didn’t have to do anything to get it.

But that didn’t make it free. Someone had to build those homes. Someone had to work the land. And I’m betting the Israelites appreciated what God had given them a few years down the road when they lost everything.

The best things in life don’t cost money, but that doesn’t make them free. We should never forget that, and we should never take it for granted when someone does something for us. Never take grace or mercy for granted.

If we ever get used to mercy, if we ever forget the cost of grace, God may have to remind us. And when God has to remind us of something we already know, it’s never fun.

So take a moment today and just be thankful for all that God has given you in your life. Everything that matters that you didn’t have to pay for. All the things you could never replace that God simply gave you because of His great love.

Don’t take them for granted, and never forget that you could never pay the price for them. That’s why God had to do it for us.

Dew on grass blades at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX (photo by my brother)

What my pants taught me about perspective

I cleaned house all weekend. Dusting. Sweeping. Moving furniture. Rearranging furniture. Cleaning and scrubbing and planning and organizing. With my parents moving back in with me at the farm, we decided we needed to do some major purging before reuniting our respective houses of furniture and assorted possessions.

I’ve emptied out closet after closet of old clothes that I don’t wear anymore. Some we just threw away because they were so torn up they wouldn’t have been any good to anyone. Others have gone into a donation stack, and others I think we’re saving for a garage sale.

But I’m pretty sure that my brand new pair of khaki pants from Old Navy ended up in the donation bag. Either that or I’ve hidden them so well I’ll never find them again.

Did I get upset? Well, not really. It’s pretty silly to get upset over a pair of khaki pants. But at the same time, those stupid things cost me a decent amount of money. And it’s not like I enjoy shopping. I go every two years if I have to. If I don’t have to, I push to every three years.

But people aren’t always rational or logical, and sometimes you just get upset about silly things. And it’s in those moments when you have to make a choice about how you’re going to see your situation. Is it a problem? Or is it an opportunity?

Dew on grass blades at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX (photo by my brother)

Dew on grass blades at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX (photo by my brother)

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:11-13.

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ,who gives me strength.

I really liked that pair of pants. They fit just right. They were just the right length. But is a pair of pants really worth getting upset about when you misplace them?

No.

Come on, it’s just a pair of pants. You can run down to the store and buy another pair. It was nobody’s fault. Sometimes things like this just happen, and we’re fortunate it was only with a pair of pants and not with something more valuable–or irreplaceable. Because I can pop down to Old Navy and buy another pair easily.

So I came face to face with a choice. I could be upset about it and try to pin blame, or I could let it go.

Guess what I chose to do?

Seriously, life is too busy to waste any time fretting about an easily replaceable pair of pants. Sure, the other pants I have aren’t the ones I really like, but I’ve got other pairs of pants. It’s not like I haven’t got other clothes.

The principle works the same in every other area of our lives. We flip out at the drop of a hat sometimes, and if we’d take a moment to think about it, we’d realize we’re freaking out over nothing. Or if it’s not nothing, we’re freaking out over something that can be replaced. Few things in life are irreplaceable, if we’re being honest about it. And it’s those things that we should focus on. It’s those things we should spend our time and effort in maintaining and obtaining.

Perspective. It’s a choice.

Freak out about bad stuff that happens, or look for the positive in it? Every bad situation has something positive in it. I promise you. You just have to look for it. And the more you look for the positive in every situation, the better you’ll be at spotting it. The better you get at focusing on what God is doing in your life, the less attention you’ll pay to the stuff that isn’t going the way you want it to.

I could get upset because I don’t have my new pair of khakis anymore. Or I could be glad because someone at a Goodwill in Wichita is going to get a really nice, barely worn pair of Old Navy khakis for a really excellent price.

What is your perspective? What are you focusing on today? What matters to you this week? Is it something that’s going to last, or is it a pair of khakis you can replace?

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Would you ever throw away a priceless gift?

Think of a friend in your life, someone you know well. How long have you been friends? How long did it take for you to get close? How long did it take for you to develop inside jokes and code words and funny stories? How long did it take for you to get to the place where you felt like you could share everything, where you were closer than family, where you could finish each other’s sentences?

Not many friends get to that place. If you have, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And you’ll know just how much work and sacrifice it took to get there. Friendships like that don’t just happen. They take a long time. But they’re worth it.

Oh, they are so worth it.

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:10.

Never abandon a friend—
    either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance.
    It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away.

I spent four hours at a birthday party last night. I was there with my brother, and also in attendance were two friends that my brother and I have known for 20 years.

20 years.

That shocks me to realize. It doesn’t seem possible that 20 years ago the four of us were running around getting into all sorts of trouble, making each other laugh, sharing life and telling crazy stories. It’s funny because that’s exactly what we did last night. Some things–and some friendships–never change.

And as I stood and listened and laughed with my friends last night, all I could think about was how thankful I was. Thankful because we didn’t have to still be friends. So much has happened in those 20 years that could have broken us up. And I’m not going to tell you it was easy.

You try being friends with someone for 20 years and see how easy it is. Try being friends with someone for five years first.

With so many friendships that I hear about today, I’m just not sure if they understand what friendship is about. I get the feeling that today’s friendships are about self. They’re about getting in with the right crowd to accomplish something. They’re about social status or opportunity.

And that’s a generalization. Many friendships don’t start like that. But many of them end because of selfish reasons. One friend hurts another friend, and neither (or both) will let it go.

And that’s okay. Some friendships aren’t meant to last 20 years. It’s probably better if some don’t.

But I can tell you I’m glad these friendships did. I’m so thankful–so very thankful–that I still have these two people in my life. They’re two people I know I could turn to at any moment–any day of the week, any time, with any request–and know that they would help me however they could. Because they’re more than family. They’re my friends.

Have you got a friendship in your life that has lasted for a long time? Don’t take it for granted. Don’t take advantage of it. If you don’t take care of it, it might not always be around. Friendship takes work–hard work.

What about the opposite side of the coin? Have you got a friendship you’re getting ready to walk away from? If you really feel like that’s the best choice, then do it. There are some friendships that aren’t healthy. But take the time to find out what a healthy friendship is supposed to look like before you give up. If you’re walking away from a long-time friendship because you got your feelings hurt or because you didn’t get your way about something, reconsider.

Friendship is a priceless gift. That’s exactly what it is. You can’t force someone to be your friend. And if they love you and trust you enough to call you a friend in return, please don’t ever take that lightly. And please think twice (or more) before you throw it away.

And if you’re one of the fortunate ones who gets the opportunity to celebrate a birthday party with a friend of 20 years, you won’t even remember the bad times. And if you do, you’ll just see them as stepping stones to a closer relationship.

Nothing worth having was easy to get. That goes for friendship too. And friendship is worth having.