Our son, Zachary, was not quite two years old. I had just taken a preaching position at a new church in Austin. One Wednesday night after we had visited with a lot of folks, Donna and I both looked up and Zach had just vanished. The lights were off in every part of the building except the foyer where we were standing. Donna and I looked at each other and at the couple with whom we were visiting and we all had this stricken look of panic!

Where would a little kid go in a dark church building? Nowhere! No little kid would wander off into a dark, creepy, huge, unfamiliar space like that. The other couple took off to look outside the building. We were all panicked and feared that he may have gone out to the parking lot or wandered into the very busy street. Both of these were horribly dangerous options that we couldn't even bear to imagine! They looked outside and Donna and I tore through the building calling, looking, and hoping against hope to find our lost boy.

Then Donna peaked in a classroom with a small window that allowed in a little outside light. There, calm as could be, was Zach. He was singing and playing with toys, totally unruffled by the darkness, separation from his parents, and their panic-stricken expressions. Relief, joy, and celebration all flooded over us. Zach was missing for only a very few minutes, but our fear and panic made it feel like an eternity. We were thrilled and overjoyed to have our little boy back in our arms!

Our story with Zach pales in comparison to the recent news stories of abducted children being reunited with their parents. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish those parents faced as they waited for years, never knowing what happened to their children who were not only lost to them, but also had vanished without a trace. Hearing stories of their reunions has touched my heart and caused tears to run down my face. Yet their stories pale in comparison to the brokenhearted Father of grace who came searching for us — you and me, his lost children — by sending Jesus to show us his love.

God's story is a story of searching love as he yearns to find his lost children, so it is no wonder that Jesus used the image of finding a lost sheep so frequently.

  • Jesus came to find God's lost sheep. (Matthew 10:6;  Matthew 15:24)
  • The Father doesn't want any to perish, but rejoices at finding each lost sheep. (Matthew 18:10-14)
  • The shepherd's great joy at finding the lost sheep. (Luke 15:3-7)
  • Jesus came to seek and to save lost sheep — like Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10)

Jesus is God's message to let us know how desperately the Father wanted to find us, to reach our hearts, and to bring us home and have a party.

Jesus' most famous apostle, Peter, humbly rejoiced and reminded early followers of Jesus that each of them had once been a lost sheep:

For "you were like sheep going astray," but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:25 TNIV).

Each follower of Jesus — even you and me — has been brought home to God, with the angels of heaven rejoicing and the Father of glory wanting to throw a party.

How can we not celebrate with great joy that we have been included?

How can we not seek and reach out to those who have wandered away from God?

How can we not rejoice when God's lost ones come home to the Father of grace and the Great Shepherd of the sheep?

Read  Luke 15:1-32 and then use the following questions for your personal reflection and group discussion in your LIFE groups, small groups, Home Gatherings, and house churches. I'd also love to hear from you on my blog about your lost and found experiences: http://thephilfiles.com

What is the most important thing in your life that you've lost, then rejoiced when you found it?

Have you ever lost a child (or a friend) in a crowd and feared something bad had happened to them?

    Who are people in your life that you can help shepherd home to God?
  • How was this situation resolved?
  • Were you able to rejoice when the person was found? What did you do to celebrate?

Who are people in your life that you can help shepherd home to God?

Who is one specific person God has put on your heart that needs to come home to God?

What can you do to help others know about the love of God?

Why do you think it is so hard for many of us to celebrate and have a party when God's lost sheep come home?

  • Have you ever found yourself, or someone else you know, resenting those who have been away from God but who have been brought back home?
  • How do we help these folks, and ourselves, let go and rejoice like God does with the angels of heaven when his lost children come home?