Found!

If you attended our church this morning, you heard Guy preach this story. If you know me well, you may have heard me tell this story. Having studied Luke 15 earlier this week, this story has lingered on my heart. It has become a touchstone of faith for our family, a reminder of God’s love and protection.

Mother’s Day weekend, May 2011, we went camping with friends in Yosemite National Park. Between us we had four adults and five boys, ages seven to twelve. Tween was the youngest, having turned seven just a few days earlier.

Saturday morning we made our way up the Vernal Falls trail. Less than two miles round-trip, it’s still a moderate hike with a 400 foot elevation gain. We went slowly, re-configuring along the way: at times I walked with my Guy, other times with my friend. The boys, older adventurers in the lead with the youngers working hard to keep up, mostly scrabbled up and over the rocks to the left of the trail, reappearing now and again.

Tween loves to adventure with his brother, but he’s less adventurous at heart. He needs to periodically touch Mama before racing off after the boys. I was grateful we’d dressed him in a long-sleeved, bright red, highly visible T-shirt.

At one dramatic vista point, we stopped to admire the raging Merced River below, a rare sight in the California drought. Guy nudged me onward, but I lingered; Tween hadn’t checked in. At that spot, he really should have. We shared a look, and then began running.

The other couple had four boys, but not five. Where was Tween?

Panic-struck, the men dropped their packs with me and ran in opposite directions: one up, the other down. The other mama continued walking with the boys, while I stayed put with the packs I couldn’t lift anyway.

Commence the longest hour of my life. When it had passed, you could have told me it had been five hours and I would’ve nodded, yes, of course. Time elongated, tortuously so.

Tween was born five weeks early. The pastor who came to pray with me read Psalm 91. Verse 11 jumped off the page–this baby, too early on his way into the world, needed God’s protection. We have prayed this verse for him all his life: God will put His angels in charge of you to protect you wherever you go. Considering he’s a true homebody, preferring to go nowhere, it has provided regular comfort.

Over and over and over I claimed that promise for my lost baby as I sat alone on that trail. I focused on the waterfall trickling on the rock face across from me, trying to block images of my fallen child, foot stuck between rocks, or washing away in the mad river. Each time people came around the bend I hoped they had my little one in tow. They didn’t, but one young girl wore a shirt that read: “God is good all the time.” I accepted it as reassurance that God was, indeed, protecting Tween.

Feeling overwhelming responsibility, Teen came back to sit with me. He cried angry tears. How had he lost his little brother? We prayed together before he ran to catch up.

When he came back again his face was still wet with tears but he shouted: We’ve got him! Just as Guy arrived at the ranger station and the ranger picked up the phone to call Search and Rescue, our friend arrived at the Vernal Falls footbridge and found Tween with a family with kids about his size. He called his wife who called Guy, then sent Teen back to me so we could all rejoice in the good news.

Somehow Tween had landed on the trail ahead of our group. He thought he was behind, so he raced on. He described his mama to everyone he passed, and when this family realized he was lost, they kept pace with him. When Tween didn’t see us at the footbridge, he wanted to keep going. They kept him safe, knowing that parents wouldn’t keep hiking up the Mist Trail without their young child.

Two weeks later neighbors suggested we spend Memorial Day at Muir Beach. We’d never been and we love the beach. That day, though, turned out to be cold and windy, a hard beach day. I couldn’t sit still to enjoy idle conversation. Dogs and kids played–my polar bears even waded into the water–while Guy and I walked the length of beach, back and forth, moving just to keep warm.

As Tween jumped behind a boulder, I realized he was again wearing his red T-shirt. Sheesh, you’d think he’d be easy to see! He popped back into sight and kept running after his brother.

The boys hopped from rock to rock when we heard, “Is that Tween?” Honest to God, the same family who had found him in Yosemite were standing on the beach. Seriously, what are the odds? We thanked them again, profusely. Tween calls them his angels (later we had to encourage him that, while God did use this family to protect him, we couldn’t count on them to show up if Tween acted irresponsibly…)

Beginning when he was four, we read The Jesus Storybook Bible with Tween night after night. One night a few months after Tween met his angels, we again came to the last story. It was sweet to snuggle and read together, so we kept going. Here’s the last page:

I looked at Tween. He was beaming and I realized more was going on than just bedtime stories. I asked, “You believe that, right? You’ve said ‘Yes’ to Jesus?” He smiled and nodded, so I continued, “That means that, even more than my child, you are God’s dear child. He loves you and you belong to Him.”

Those 25 minutes were the highlight of my week, and that may not be saying enough. God gave me the assurance that my child loves Jesus and wants to live God’s story for his life. The hour my child was lost was the worst of my life, but he has been found. Jesus came to seek and to save His lost children. Thank you, Jesus, thank you, a thousand times thank you!

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Found: Luke 15

Connect
When have you searched for something you’d lost?

Study
Read aloud Luke 15:1-7.
Jesus assumes that his audience would have the experience of searching for one of their own lost sheep. How might Jesus tell this parable today?
How is the sinner like the lost sheep? How is repentance like being found?
What is the shared emotional response between finding the sheep and the sinner’s repentance (vv. 5-7)? Why is that significant?
What is the role of “friends and neighbors” (v. 6)? Why are they important?
Who are the 99 righteous? Do they really not need to repent?
Why do the Pharisees and teachers complain (v. 2)? How does Jesus’ parable respond to their complaint?
Parables have one main point. How would you state Jesus’ one main point in this parable?

Live
How does a critical attitude get in the way of hearing Jesus?
Who went looking for you when you were lost? Who have you gone looking for?
Who are your “friends and neighbors” with whom you can celebrate found sheep?
How might joy be the antidote to criticism? What can you do to cultivate joy in the Lord?
For which lost sheep are you praying?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray specifically for the lost sheep you love to be found by Jesus.

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Scripture: Our Map

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This picture has always struck me as an accurate portrayal of my relationship with my mom – the two of us snuggled up, enjoying a book together. Mom read with me all the way through high school, and even when I was in college she sometimes read the books I was assigned. She loves to read, I love to read, and one thing I know for sure I’ve done well as a mom is pass on that passion to my children.

I love stories, written stories and life stories. My story and your story. And God’s story, the written version of it found in the Bible, and the living version we play out everyday. I grew up going to church and I knew the kid-versions of Bible stories. But when I got to be a teenager people kept telling me I needed to read the Bible on my own, except I didn’t know how.

Let’s be honest, the Bible can be fairly intimidating! It was written in different times and cultures, with different languages and different uses of language (literal, figurative, descriptive, prescriptive, poetic, etc). And that’s even before you get to all the translations (NIV, NLT, NASB), study Bibles or life application Bibles, or even the question of where does one begin to read? At the beginning? At the beginning of the Old or New Testament, or at the beginning of any of its 66 books? And then what? You might feel, as many of us have, like the Bible belongs to certain people, whoever they are, and remains a big mystery to you, that some people ‘get’ the Bible while others aren’t qualified to crack its cover.

In our mid-20s Guy and I were married and working at a church and, while I regularly read books about the Bible, books that guided me in what the Bible said, I didn’t often read the Bible itself. Until someone showed me these verses in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“All Scripture is God-breathed [other translations read “inspired”] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

“Teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” not big words but they don’t easily roll off the tongue. And what do they really mean?

Know. Stop. Change. Do.

God wants to use the Bible to speak to you about what you should know, stop, change, and/or do. So you read this Book, God’s Story, filled with incredible stories of God at work in the lives of some very ordinary people, all the while enjoying a conversation with God Himself about what He wants to say to you through His book. The “know, stop, change, do” paradigm changed everything for me.

I didn’t immediately shelve my stack of devotional books. I didn’t stop attending worship or my small group Bible study. But with this simple tool I didn’t have to rely on someone or something to help me understand the Bible. Instead of reading about the Bible I could read the Bible itself and come away changed because I’d read it. Because, while reading, I recognized that I was in the presence of God.

Still, where to start? I recommend using a Bible reading plan. I particularly like One Year Bible Online. Click on today’s date and it pulls up today’s Bible reading – Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm and Proverb. I don’t necessarily read all of each day’s readings, but the beauty of a reading plan is I don’t guilt myself if I miss a day or even a few days; I just go to that day’s reading and start fresh.

Recently a friend asked me about the Bible. She didn’t understand the basics: Old and New Testaments, the various books of the Bible, the chapter and verse markings. I was so grateful she asked, for two reasons: 1) she trusts me to guide her, and 2) she reminded me that the Church takes for granted that people understand the Book we revere as our authority for life and faith. So to you, dear Readers: if you need help understanding the Bible, find a trusted person to ask your questions; and if you’ve been around the Book a while, don’t assume that others get it. It’s up to us to help them find their way to Jesus, the Living Word.

Connect
What is your favorite book and why?

Study
Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
From whom did Timothy learn the holy Scriptures? (see 2 Timothy 1:5)
Using this passage, how would you explain the Bible to someone who hasn’t read it?
What benefits result from reading Scripture?
Read James 1:22-25.
Put James’ mirror analogy in your own words and explain what it says about Scripture.
What does it mean to “look intently” into Scripture and “continue” to do so?

Live
Who has been influential in helping you learn to read and apply Scripture to your life? How have they influenced you?
What are your practices for hearing the Word? For example, do you have a set time and place to read Scripture? What tools have you found helpful?
What are some strategies that have helped you be a “doer of the Word”? (i.e. How do you keep Scripture in mind throughout the day?)
What do these verses tell you personally to know, stop, change and/or do?

Pray
Pray that God will actively speak to you through His Word and that the Spirit will guide you to continue in it.

Experiment
Read Bible stories with children, or read a children’s story Bible. My favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible.
Use One Year Bible Online and read for at least five minutes five days this week. As you read, have a conversation with God. What does He want you to know, stop, change and/or do?