Heart Lessons from Sabbatical #1: The Tension of the Parable of the 99 and the 14
First things first- THANK YOU for sending our family on this sabbatical. I had no idea how much we needed it until about half way through it and I realized that Jesus was doing a pretty thorough house cleaning in my heart and my family's hearts- one that I did not even realize that I needed until I was able to step back to take the 10,000 foot arial view.
Simply put, God has reignited a passion for mission here on the Jersey Shore and to the precious people He has called me to and has done so with revealing more of His glory and revealing how often I fall short of it. So, I want to share a few things that God has been showing me. I thought that God was going to bring me back and have me sharing all of the virtues of rest and sabbath- and that does have it's place for sure, but other things have captivated my heart and mind and I want to share about them in a series of blogs and testimonies. As of now, the thoughts I desire to share (wide ranging and in no particular order) are:
- The Tension of the 99 and the 1
- Confessions from a pastor who was exhausted by caring too much about what people think about me and didn’t even realize it
- Ministry and the Treadmill of Anxiety
- Jesus is not concerned with "Is it cool" when He sends us on mission
- God is clearly not impressed with celebrity culture in churchianity
- God actually cares about whether Christians are nice people
- Sometimes Christians can spiritualize being really lousy friends
- Grace is God's gift for when we fall short of God's perfection, NOT a ticket to have a built in license to not even try
- NOT KNOWING HOW to receive grace is EXHAUSTING! Feeling like you have to reciprocate is even more exhausting and unsustainable
There is not much of a common thread through these (aside from the centrality of Christ). So I will call this series "musings" that came through dedicated time to spend at the feet of Jesus.
#1- The tension of the 99 and the 1
We read about the "99 and the 1" in Luke 15:1-7:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Simply put, I have had an unrest in my soul and it has been there for quite some time and the Lord used this passage to apply a scalpel.
I remember being captivated by that parable early on in my Christianity. Mostly because I really felt the love of Jesus when I realized that:
I AM THAT ONE THAT JESUS LEFT THE 99 TO GO AND BRING BACK TO HIMSELF AND HE REJOICED OVER A MAN THAT HAD DONE VERY LITTLE THAT WAS WORTHY OF REJOICING OVER!
It's humbling. It should be. Why would Jesus risk everything to come rescue a sinner like me? I spent many mornings contemplating this question and it would always lead to worship.
But, unknowingly, it was also creating in me a philosophy of ministry. I have always been willing to put the 99 on the back burner to go after the 1. That can sound callous, but I promise I don't mean it to be so. My thoughts were- even for the struggling Christian, this is as bad as it's ever gonna be and the struggle will be but momentary light affliction compared to the glories to someday be revealed
BUT...what of the one who hasn't heard? What of the one who has heard but has strayed from the truth, even denying the blood of the Savior that they once claimed as their own?
For this person- unless they are drawn to Jesus, things are not going to get easier, better or more enjoyable. The pleasures of this earth will pass away and some day all that will remain is Christ. The consequences of being "that one" who does not return to the fold with the 99 are dyer in that day.
So, I have always felt that my calling was to go after the 1. I appreciate the 99. I enjoy following Jesus along with the other 99. But the thing that made my heart flutter with joy was going after that "1" and "the rejoicing" that Jesus speaks of when that person is brought into right relationship with Jesus.
But, what about the 99?
After all, Jesus calls us to make disciples. Not just to make converts. Who cares for the 99 when the shepherd is going after that 1? This question has led to a lot of heart reflection, confession, repentance and asking the Lord for fresh vision.
As I began to think more about this parable within the framework of the parable it became clear to me that if the shepherd only stayed on the fringes to catch the outliers that eventually the 99 would be put at risk. Surely Jesus is not saying that He does not care for the 99 who have not strayed, right? That's a rhetorical question. Of course He does.
So, how do we effectively care for the 99 while keeping that passion for the 1?
That's been my big question. It would seem to me that churches fall into one of two extremes:
- Great at caring for their sheep (their 99). Shepherding, discipleship, the whole nine yards. They're crushing it
- Or, a church is great at training the congregation to get out there after the 1. They are very focused on running streamlined, non-programatic and sleek to leave time for mission. But this can often be to the neglect of authentic community, discipleship and shepherding.
So, that is what really boggled my mind. Surely a church can do both, right? Surely we are to call our people to both, right?
The answer came while studying Ephesians 4:11-16:
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The Lord made it pretty clear to me that the answer is found in a plurality of giftedness. As I look at Ephesians 4, we see that a healthy church should consist of:
- Those who were called to take the Gospel to new frontiers
- Those who speak the Word with prophetic precision
- Evangelists who are called to go after the 1
- Shepherds who are called to care for the 99
- Teachers who are called to equip the body
The reason that I was feeling cagy inside is because God intended for these things to be lived out within the body within the context of the beauty of plurality and the priesthood of all believers.
The bottom line is- I (Eric Loyer) am called and passionate about reaching the 1 straying sheep and to taking the Gospel to new frontiers (church planting).
I am not a good discipleship systems guy, but someone should be (and I believe we have multiple in our body). Teaching and administration are not my primary gifts, but I thank God for those who are primarily gifted in these areas in our body.
So, it brings me back around to the questions of the restlessness I have felt. I am the best version of me when I am using the gifts that God instilled in me, which is calling people to go after "the one". I am most useful to the church- both "C" church and our local church, Redeemer when I am in my lane. God has given me other gifts but I water down my primary gifting when the majority of my time is spent not using that primary gifting.
So, my musings for today are: How do we as a body grow more effective to be on mission and reach the 1 AND more effective at discipling the 99? It has to be both. It's gotta be.
And the answer that I know that I am able to obey for today is to operate in my giftedness and to be humble enough to know when others are more gifted in other areas.
Because Jesus loves the 99 AND the 1, and so should we.
A couple of questions as I wrap up?
- Are you more of a 99 person, or a 1 person?
- Are you willing to lay down what is comfortable to pursue opportunities to be used by God in caring for the sheep and pursuit of the lost?
- Does a church have to be a 99church or a 1church? Can it effectively be both?
- How do we be that church?
It feels good to get some of these thoughts out of my head and down on paper. I love you, Redeemer Family. I will be preaching on this text (Luke 15:1-7) on September 8 and I can't wait.