Back on Leap Day of last year, my wife and I had a special day planned for the kids. The plan was that we would go to Meramec Caverns and then to Ted Drewes and then play laser tag, have a special dinner, and watch a family movie. In the end, the day was a lot of fun and one I hope the kids will remember for a long time. But soon after it started, things got a bit scary.
We had gone through the caves and were in the gift shop just browsing. Soon we discovered that our daughter, Coleena, was no longer in the gift shop. She has something called, Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, which takes away much of her restraint. She is impulsive and if she sees something she likes, she goes to it. She loves everybody and has no problem going up to total strangers. So when she disappeared, we thought the worst. We told the kids to stay in the gift shop and we began to search everywhere for her. No one saw her go back to the caves, so we looked in the parking lot, in the café, everywhere we could think of. Suddenly as I’m coming back in the front door of the building she comes around the corner with a scared look on her face. She thought we had left her. She saw us going out the door and thought we had forgotten her. I walked up to her, picked her up and carried her for the next few minutes as we both calmed ourselves.
In the end, we found out that she had actually never left the gift shop. She had gone around one of the window displays and was hidden from sight. But as I reflected back on that situation, I had a greater understanding of the parable of the lost sheep. The shepherd, the lover of the sheep, left the ninety-nine, and searched after the one that had wandered away. This is exactly what Katie and I did, leaving our four other kids in the gift shop, looking for the one who (we had thought) wandered away, or worse. And as the shepherd would have picked the lamb up in relief and to comfort and to teach, so I by instinct had done the same.
Isaiah wrote something very significant about wandering sheep. Many years ago I heard a sermon by Al Martin on this very text. It is not simply one of the greatest sermons on Isaiah 53 that I’ve heard, but one of the greatest sermons I have ever heard. I promise you that this blog is not in the same category as Al Martin’s. But it is, I believe, something that is desperately needed in our world today.
Isaiah wrote, “We all went astray like sheep,” (53.6a, HCSB). This is actually what Coleena did. She went astray. She was nearby, but not with everyone. She was in the vicinity of where she was supposed to be, but not actually where she was supposed to be. In our human nature, we are born having already strayed from where God would have us be. God has set up parameters as to where we are to be and how we are to live. We are born already defying those parameters.
It started with Adam and Eve. God created a Garden of Eden for the two of them to enjoy and tend. It’s all yours. God had enclosed the garden and all that was within was for Adam and Eve’s enjoyment. Everything but one thing. “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die,” (Gen 2.16, ESV). There were the two of them after that. They were happy as could be, until they strayed. Having been tempted, Eve gave in, and took of the forbidden fruit, ate it, and gave it to Adam, who ate it also.
From that point on they were strays. The relationship with God had been severed. Their minds slowly began to seek after things that would please the flesh. Rather than focus on the things that would please the soul, they searched for that which would please the flesh. Their focus was not on what would make them satisfied, but what would gratify for the moment. Like C. S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory, p. 26).
From the moment Adam and Eve took from the fruit to this very moment in time, we have all decided that we’d rather be gratified with mud-pies than be satisfied with the holiday at sea. Rather than setting our minds on the spirit, we set our minds on the flesh, and as Paul wrote, “For the mindset of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it unable to do so,” (Rom 8.7, HCSB).
That is how we are born. Our mindset is on the gratification of the flesh, and so stray. God has set up his parameters, His commands for us to follow. They are commands that in many ways restricts the flesh, but frees the soul. But because we are so focused on the flesh, we simply do not submit to those commands and we begin to stray.
So we have those commands that we are oblivious to our breaking, and we have those commands that we are “bending” but proud of not breaking. For instance, most of us are completely unaware of our idol worship, and our worship of false gods. We don’t even think about treasuring things and people, reputation and pride, as breaking the first two commands. But there are others that we are much more aware of, like the ones Jesus brought up in the sermon on the mount. We pride ourselves on never having murdered or having committed adultery, not realizing that bending of God’s rules is straying and breaking from them, as Jesus said that to be angry and to look with lust is the reality of the commands.
To be continued…