A several summers ago Laura and I witnessed every parent’s nightmare. As we soaked up the sun at Myrtle Beach, enjoying our annual vacation, watching Drake and Anna Gray, who were then still young enough to enjoy just playing in the sand, we noticed a man acting rather strangely. A barely disguised look of terror was on his face as he walked the beach, scanning back and forth between umbrellas and beach chairs. We could see him talking nervously to various groups along the beach. When he was near enough to speak with a lifeguard we could discern that he’d lost his little girl. The family thought she was with relatives, but she had vanished.
I felt his fear in my own heart as I imagine my little ones alone and at the mercy of strangers on the beach. I empathized with the man and started praying for the safe return of his daughter.
All of the lifeguards were notified by radio and they began sweeping the beach for the little girl. The father was by far the most energetic searcher. Within a few minutes he disappeared down the beach. Much to our relief, the little lost girl was found about 20 minutes later. She was several block down, playing and completely clueless at the danger she was in and the search in progress.
As I reflect on that event, I find that God is a lot like that father. He yearns for his estranged creatures to enter into His family. He longs for the wanderers to come home. Your heavenly Father’s heart beats for lost people. If your heart beats like the Father’s, you’ll love lost people too.
I want to share this message with you because I fear that we have become complacent about the lost. We can get so busy trying to make a living or doing good things or even growing a church that we forget the heart of the matter: lost people matter intensely to God. Jesus explicitly said this was His purpose.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10 (NIV)
As I begin full time here as your pastor I want this to be one of the core values of Antioch Baptist Church. Lost people should be a priority to us because they’re a priority to God. If lost people do not matter to this church or individuals here, that means something is terribly wrong in our relationship to God. As you’ll see shortly, the person who has not a care for lost people probably does not know the heavenly Father. His heart beats for lost people. If your heart beats like the Father’s, you’ll love lost people too.
In His day Jesus earned a reputation as a “friend of sinners.” He spent time with them. He dined with them. He healed them. He encouraged them. Not just the small time sinner. Jesus hung out with the worst of the worst. Look how the religious folks reacted to his love for lost people and their love for Him:
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2 (NIV)
Jesus had the audacity to violate Jewish customs to seek and save the lost. He did not require them to come to Him. He went to the places where they could be found – the market places, street corners, and their homes. He made Himself ritualistically unclean by being in the presence of an unrepentant sinner.