Giving Joy a Second Chance.
I was seven years old the first time I visited the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk. As we approached the House of Mirrors, my feet were frozen – I was mesmerized!
I held my mother’s hand as ocean waves thundered up through the wooden planks shaking the entire structure. Thousands of people grazing their way down the boardwalk, having the time of their lives. Everything was larger than life! The smell of cotton candy meeting a fresh pepperoni pizza rising on the heat waves at Mac n Manco’s creating an explosion of goodness in my nose. An orange and vanilla Kohl’s soft-serve dripping down my hand in the hot sun. Distant screams as the rollercoaster careened out of control. Carnies promising you a large stuffed animal if you can knock down all the milk bottles….only one dollar! With my senses in over-load, there was no greater feeling of awe and joy for this young boy. I stood across from the music pier, locked in a trance as the ticket taker lamented that some people had gone in several days ago and have yet to find their way out! I felt my mother’s hand slip from mine as the world faded. “Fifty-cents kid!” I was sure the carnival worker was talking directly to me, challenging me to see if I can make it through the maze of glass. I licked the vanilla ice dripping from my hand. I have to go in there! Exiting my trance, I reached up. But like a frisbee over the Grand Canyon eventually disappearing from view, my words drifted over a sea of strangers never to be heard. “Please mom, can I…” She was gone.
Luke 15 tells a story of a shepherd counting the sheep as they enter the sheepfold. He notices that one is missing. He secures the flock and pursues the one that has lost its way. After hours of searching, he finds the lost sheep, alone in the dark, cold and frightened. The shepherd picks up the sheep, carrying it on his shoulders returning it to the flock safe and sound. In Luke 15:6 the shepherd tells his friends and neighbors to come and rejoice with him as he has found the sheep that was once lost.
I never walked down the boardwalk intending to get lost, but there I was. Alone in the crowd with no possibility of finding my way on my own. Why did my mother leave me?
For many of us who proclaim to be Jesus-followers we remember a season early in our spiritual lives where there was wonder and joy abounding in this new life with God in the picture. But like a boy at a carnival the distractions of life have frozen us in our tracks wondering where Jesus has gone. We cry out to God pleading, “why have you abandoned me?” But unlike a mom trying to keep track of a very distractible boy, God will not “abandon” us. He never will.
Having been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is a cause for great joy. But today I re-Joy-ce. I choose joy again, knowing that as I have lost my way, the good shepherd still comes for me. Jesus will not rest until you and I are restored in our relationship with Him.
Perhaps today is a very dark and lonely day for you. Be still and know that the creator of the universe is pursuing you. Don’t hide. Don’t panic. Don’t run. Be still and let yourself be found. Let Him reNew and reStore the joy of your salvation, and we will reJoyce with you!
— Chris Rader, Care Ministries Pastor