My wife and I have a standing date on Friday nights. We usually go out to a restaurant and enjoy a relaxed meal while spending time together, catching up on things we haven’t had a chance to talk about throughout our busy week. I tend to get in a rut and go to the same places to eat, ordering the same meal. However, from time to time a friend or family member will recommend a new restaurant for us to try. That’s what restaurants count on to build business–satisfied customers telling their friends.
When we discover a new product that works well, we share that information with others. When we get a promotion or have something else good happen in our lives, we want to share it with our friends and family. Our youngest daughter recently found out she is pregnant. She and her husband could hardly wait to tell us and you can bet I’ve been spreading the exciting news.
Jesus told a parable about a shepherd who lost a sheep. “Suppose someone among you had a hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep'” (Luke 15:4-6 CEB).
Then Jesus explained the point of his parable. “In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.”
Over the years I served as a pastor I was criticized many times by church members for caring more about the unchurched than I cared for church members. Of course, this wasn’t true, but I did understand why it sometimes felt that way to them. My behavior was based on this parable about the lost sheep and other similar teachings in scripture. I never cared more about the lost, but I did spend more time and effort trying to minister to them than many pastors do. I do this because they need what I have to offer and that’s what God has called me to do.
Jesus didn’t say God loves the lost person more than He loves active church members. However, He was suggesting God rejoices more when a heart is transformed. God is more excited when a broken life is mended. There’s more joy in heaven when hurts are healed and demons are cast out.
There is a great deal of discussion today about the decline in our churches. Every week I receive information about some conference I should attend that will teach me how to grow my church, fill my pews. I have suggestions as well; I write here on my blog about how to make disciples that will build the church.
However, I think the greatest issue is a matter of the heart. I’m afraid the church has a heart problem. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Bob Hope. “If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
Maybe we have “hardening of our spiritual arteries.” Jesus once met a man at the synagogue who had a withered hand. The Pharisees watched to see if Jesus would heal this man on the sabbath. Jesus looked with anger at these deeply religious men who put traditions before the needs of people and “grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5 NRSV).
The Christian church will start reaching a lot more people when we members start getting as excited about what God is doing in our lives as we are about the new restaurant in town. The church will grow when we get more interested in serving the least and the last in our community than in increasing our own comfort. The church will grow when we let God do a heart transplant on us so that we love the lost sheep–just like the shepherd in Jesus’ parable.
QUESTION: Are you ready for God’s heart transplant? Please respond in the Comments section below.