Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

“To Seek And To Save The Lost”

           I’ve been thinking about my focus for the coming year. Maybe a better word would be “refocus.” A few weeks ago I was reading the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel when God caught my attention and reminded me that our focus as a church should be on the same things that occupy the heart of God.

            So what occupies the heart of God?

            Here’s what I read in Ezekiel, chapter 34:


11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13 I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. 14 Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak… 22 So I will rescue my flock.. 23 And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!

{Ezekiel 34:11-16a, 22a, 23-24}


            As I read those verses I realized that this describes how God has worked, time and time again, in my life. My personal experience with God has been a relationship where God is like a caring shepherd, and I am like a wandering, lost sheep.

            I have experienced God as a shepherd who comes seeking and searching for me when I have strayed or gotten myself in one mess after another. When I’ve made bad decisions or gone off in wrong directions, God has come to rescue me and carry me back home where I belong.

            When I looked in the wrong places to satisfy hunger and thirst, God has fed me in ways that bring real fulfillment.

            When life has left me wounded and hurting, God has been a shepherd who has been there to tend to my injuries and heal them.

            In times of fear, confusion, worry, or doubt, God has led me like a sheep to quiet pastures where I could find peace and rest.


            When Jesus saw the people of His day, He responded to them in the same way that Ezekiel experienced God. The Bible says when Jesus saw the crowds…

            36 …he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

{Matthew 9:36}



            These words from both Ezekiel, and Jesus, tell me something very important about the heart of God. Ezekiel and Jesus describe God as a shepherd desperately searching to find, rescue, and restore, lost sheep.

            This passage in Ezekiel is reminding us of this basic understanding of our faith: lost people matter to God.

            When you think about it, this is a central message of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

            Some years ago Dale Galloway, a pastor, an author, and a church planter, came and spoke to the Reynolds Academy for Leadership, Evangelism, And Discipleship. He stressed over and over this central truth: lost people matter to God.

            Here are my notes from Galloway’s teaching:

1) The mission of Jesus was to live and die on a cross so that sinners could be put in right relationship with God—“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

2) The central message of the Cross teaches that lost people matter to God. Jesus said He came “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

 3) The most important decision of eternity underscores this value: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36).

4) The central mission of the church, found in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, involves reaching out to lost people whom God loves.

5) The most central teaching of the church, reflected in John 3:16…involves reaching lost people.

6) Taken as a whole, the entire Bible is the history of God’s salvation of lost people.

7) Perhaps the three greatest parables ever taught, presented in Luke 15, all underscore the same idea. According to verses 1-2, it was the religious crowd, the Pharisees, the keepers of the traditions, who were most disturbed at Jesus because He reached out to sinners. Jesus seized the opportunity to teach three parables in which the key word is lost: lost sheep, lost coin, lost son. In the third parable which also goes by the name prodigal son, something takes place that never happened in the Jewish family: the father went out seeking, looking, searching for the lost son.

8) This core value is one that can be directly applied to every culture, every generation, and every country.

9) All ministry that has high impact in changing lives is relationship. Few core values are more relational that a compelling sense that lost people matter to God.


            As I read the book that forms the theme of our 2008 Charge Conference, Five Practices Of Fruitful Congregations, I couldn’t help but hear the words in the back of my mind: “lost people matter to God.”

            I think that’s what each of these “five practices” point us to.

1) Radical hospitality;

2) Passionate worship;

3) Intentional faith development;

4) Risk-taking mission and service;

5) Extravagant generosity;

all are practices that reflect the heart of God and the core value that lost people matter to God. We do what we do, to grow fruitful congregations, in order that lost people might be sought out, found, rescued, brought home to God, and restored to new life.

            Some years ago, a leading pastor in our country offered a five-year vision to his congregation at the time of their 20th anniversary.

            For the next five-year period, the pastor challenged the church to focus on, what he called, the “5 G’s.” These were:

Grace (showing lost people that they matter to God and can experience salvation through faith in Jesus Christ);

Growth (helping people go forward in their faith);

Groups (finding biblical community through a small group);

Gifts (finding and using spiritual gifts); and

Giving (putting God first in the stewardship of their resources).

            These 5 G’s correspond very closely to the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

            The pastor set out to give 20% of his attention to each of these 5 G’s. But he soon learned that he had made a big mistake in his ratio. He discovered that the 1st G (grace) needed much more emphasis than the others. He came to realize that the 1st G, grace, the ministry of evangelism needed 40% of his and the church’s attention, not 20%.

            He discovered that evangelism needs such a high priority, and definite focus of time and effort because this is an area of ministry that is the most difficult, and takes the most intentional work.

            Secondly, he realized that people in the church over time tend to drift away from reaching out and focus more on themselves, and those within the church, and their circle of friends.

            The lesson I learn from this pastor’s example that today’s church needs to make evangelism, the kind we see in the shepherd from Ezekiel, our top priority in 2009. Our ministries would do well to focus on searching for the lost sheep of our community, and the surrounding county. Our priority will be best served if it is outwardly focused—seeking and finding lost sheep, reaching out and offering them the rescue and restoration that comes through the salvation of Jesus Christ.

            Some years ago a pastor gave a wonderful picture of how easy it is for us to become lost. He said:

            I live in a small, rural community. There are lots of … ranches around here, and, every once in a while, [an animal] wanders off and gets lost . . . Ask a rancher how [an animal] gets lost, and chances are he will reply, ‘Well, the [animal] starts nibbling on a tuft of green grass, and when it finishes, it looks ahead to the next tuft of green grass and starts nibbling on that one, and then it nibbles on a tuft of grass right next to a hole in the fence. It then sees another tuft of green grass on the other side of the fence, so it nibbles on that one and then goes on to the next tuft. The next thing you know, the [animal] has nibbled itself into being lost.’


            “Americans are in the process of nibbling their way to lostness… We keep moving from one tuft of activity to another, never noticing how far we have gone from home or how far away from the truth we have managed to end up.”


            Jesus echoed the shepherd in Ezekiel when He told this story:

4 “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? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 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!”

{Luke 15:4-7}

            I would like to think that in 2009 I will be like the shepherd in this story, and lay it all on the line to reach lost sheep, and bring them home, to the salvation Jesus offers them.

            I hope I can convince the leaders of my church to join me in this endeavor. I am convinced seeking lost sheep is why God has put us here in the church of Jesus Christ at this time in history, because I know that lost people matter to God.


            With so many people lost and far from God, right here around us, can I count on you, to help me, fulfill our mission, to seek and find the lost, in the year ahead?



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