Heaven Only Knows – Why We Get Lost and How We Get Home

Did you ever wonder how the pastor picks the sermon topic? Does he just pull one out of a hat? Well!… I've tried about every other method. So let's try that one! Right now. I've borrowed a Boy Scout Stetson and filled it with little topic slips. Let's shuffle them. Now (to congregation), will you please pull one out of the hat. OK. Here's the question. "Why and how do the children of believers sometimes stray or turn away from God? And how do we, how does God, bring them home again?" Ooo, that seems pretty hard. Let's try again. (Repeat.) Hmm. Let's go again. (Repeat.) Mercy, Lord! Either lots of folks 'been wrestlin' with the same thing, or somebody packed the hat. It's all good. I just happen to have prepared a message on this very subject. I brought it with me. It's almost like somebody wrote me this July and asked that we ponder just this!

Isaiah writes, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent, who brings princes to nought, makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. They wither like stubble. To whom will you compare the Holy One? Lift up your eyes on high and see him who brings out their number, calling them all by name by the greatness of his might. Because he is strong in power not one is missing." (Ed.) 'Ancient wisdom for troubling questions in troubled times. Why do the young and not-so-young wander? 'Because we fail to grasp, or forget, who and what size we are. 'Because others grasp us and we are willing. ("The fault… lies not in the stars but in ourselves." Shakespeare) How do we, how does God bring us home? He teaches, calls, equips us to look up, not around. He reaches for us, and bids us reach for each other without tiring. He binds us with prayer. God bids us choose participation over partition. In Christ God draws the circle and includes us in. In Christ, God shows and tells us how it's done!

It sorrows me not to be original. But faithful works better. So let me speak faithfully. Kids from 1 to 101 need constant reminding just who/whose and what size we really are. B O R I N G! BUT SO TRUE. We believers find it hard to admit. Our kids, we too, stray far from God sometimes. And even far from us. Confusion and guilt about it make for a sorrowful soufflé!

Isaiah speaks to us. God is our Maker and Master, wonderful Cub and Scout Masters notwithstanding. Actually, scouting reminds us of this, kids and adults alike. So do our youth ministries. But it appears hard to remember. We often strive to be in charge. Where does that come from? Somewhere deep within, no doubt. We've been on tiptoe to measure up to God ever since Adam gave Eve a "leg up" to fetch a little fruit off Eden's forbidden Tree. When our kids show the same trait, we needn't whip ourselves about it. It's what the church calls Original Sin. It's not exactly a manufacturer's defect. Any computer tech could tell you. It's a programming error on the mother/father board. Parents needn't feel guilty about this. That's unhelpful, neurotic guilt, the kind that frets what we don't create and don't control. But there are ways to avoid supersizing self-importance/indulgence. Families, scouts, youth ministries and-the-like can help. How many of us make little gods of our kids/youth, thereby encouraging them to believe the world revolves around them?  Where schedules control parents, parents need to control schedules! Far more than energy/exhaustion is at stake. By the number and nature of appointments we allow ourselves and our young, we unwittingly abet appointing us/them like gods. Seek to impose discipline, limits, boundaries, and we like God, become more and more likely to meet resistance and resentment. A good foundation helps in all things. Cliché, yes, but still true. "Train up a child when he is young, and when he is old, he shall not depart from it," Scripture says. There are 100's of reasons to celebrate scouting. Here are two. One: they put kids out in tents at night. They get to see the stars. And they gain a sense of the bigness of God by looking at the tent of heaven. They also do merit badges. They show youngsters there's stuff bigger than they to be confronted. I only wish for one they don't have. Boxing. But only to learn the poet (JWJ) is right. "Young man, young man, your arm's too short to box with God!"

Why do we and our kids wander? Our personal programming (our sin) to be sure. But there is more. Paul writes of the principalities and powers. You might prefer the words Evil, or the Devil, or Temptation. The Gospels use all three. Pick your words, just don't pick their wares. And teach your kids not to either! What if every kid strove instead for these? And every adult helped by teaching and example: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. 'Not bad applications of the Great Commandment of Jesus. "Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself." 'What a contrast to the negative values of our culture, as near as pocket or purse. I invite you. Pull out your cell if you have it. Take a look at it. It can hook you up with loved ones, connect you to your neighbors, spare you in a crisis. But it can be a siren too. A demon in disguise. 28% of students nationwide report school use, gaining access to test questions in advance. A stunning 32% (13/17) report attempts to send or receive among friends, self-images in some state of undress (Sexting!). That's legally chargeable and once on the internet, virtually immortal.  And all this, before we see our kids' accounts on the internet, or worse, they see ours!

Lord have mercy! How do we, how does God, bring us and our children home again?" Surely it wouldn't surprise you to hear the preacher say, "Enter, Jesus!" (I've already said it's more important to be faithful than original.) Jesus, in so many ways, doings, stories. Here's a great one. He goes to Peter's mother-in-law's. house. Peter, his brother Andrew; James, his brother John. (More about that bunch in a minute.) Jesus goes to the woman, flat on her back on a bed of pain. She's looking up at him. He takes her hand. 'Lifts her. She's healed. God forever gives us this direction, "Look up!" There's a sign of Godself to see. 'From the rainbow to the stars, to the pillar of fire, to the sweet, sweet face of Christ. The direction saves us. Or at least begins to lead us home. Then too, he reaches for us. From the vision of Jacob's ladder to the sky, angels comin' and goin'; to fetchin' Elijah home in the original Chariot of Fire, to Jesus' hand so oft' outstretched to help and heal. (It IS, of course, the way we see him last, before his resurrection.) I recall a Saturday PM, lost in the woods with Cub Master Burdsell. 20 boys, cranky, cold, a little scared. Very lost. He was determined to get us back to camp with his compass. NOT! Beyond the thick woods we saw a shaft of sun where the trees thinned. "Let's just keep looking up for the light," we said. Finally he gave in. Ahh, camp! Bro. Bill never did get that compass right. But that night at campfire, at Vespers he read from his Bible about Jesus, light of the world. I got it. Lots of us did. I never forgot. Few others either. Of the 20 there, 4 have been clergy 30 years or more. (… Train up a child….)

How does God bring the lost home? Even the young? How might we? After the m. i. l. healing, others are made whole. Come morning, Jesus gets away by himself… to pray. Don't miss this. When drained, Christ knows prayer fills, renews, refocuses, even saves. It still does, for us as for him. Wanna keep or get the kids on track, and you with them? Get alone with God for them, for you. I've still got my mamma prayin' for me, and for us (every bd. mtg.).

She's blown out two hips and a knee, but she tells me it's worth it just to know whose hand is outreached to me and to us!

Prayer availeth much, says Scripture. Not all. One more thing. God in Christ helps us home by making us at home with each other. He renews us to redeem us. 'Gets us out of our skin and into each other's spirit. Remember those sets of brothers Peter, Andrew, James and John. As fishers, they were competitors, Thomas Steagald says. Advantaged boat fishers, family business. Go-it-alone shore fishers, eking' a livin'. Both follow Jesus. Surely, naturally, there were feelings here, left over from the lakeshore. Jealousy, maybe, resentment, condescension. You get it. (It follows all the way to the Last Supper.) Jesus insists they all be in this one house to see this singular act of Heaven's healing power. There's a double healing here. The woman, yes. We see that. But these brothers, too. In Christ's company the message is, "Get over it, you and all your divisions. Get over what partitions you. In  Christ, participate in what heals you." The diversity of scout and youth groups, church and fellowship groups teaches this very same lesson.

Look up. Size down. Look inside. Look around and beware. Look to Jesus. Follow him. Embrace one another.  There's room in his Way. And room at the cross. Wander though we may, and our kids with us… "Lift up your eyes on high. See and do tell. He who brings us out by number, calls us all by name. Because he is strong in power and grace, not one need be missing.  Not even you or your young."

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