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Luke 15:11-32

When I was pastor of an international church in La Paz, Bolivia, the church hosted a benefit concert for Fundacion Cardioinfantil. The purpose was to raise money for poor children in need of heart surgery. Performing at the concert was Collegium Musicum, a youth orchestra from Cochabamba, another city in Bolivia. The concert was supposed to start at 7:30. Of course, Bolivia is in Latin America, and so nothing starts at its designated time. So, when the orchestra wasn’t in place at 7:30, I didn’t think anything of it, nor did anyone else. Even at 7:45 I wasn’t concerned. By 8:00, when the orchestra still wasn’t ready, I began to get concerned. Finally, almost an hour late, the concert began.

Why did the concert start an hour late? Well, two of the orchestra members, two who had important roles to play in the concert, got lost. The orchestra was from Cochabamba so they were probably not familiar with La Paz, and especially our section of the city. So they got lost.

What did that mean, that they were lost? Well, obviously they weren’t where they were supposed to be. They were not where they belonged. Thus, they were not integrated into the orchestra, which meant they were not able to fulfill their purpose. Their purpose was to perform with the orchestra, provide the audience with an enjoyable evening of music, and in the process help raise money for Fundacion Cardioinfantil. As long as they remained lost, as long as they remained separated from the orchestra, they could not fulfill their purpose.

That’s one of the consequences of being lost, isn’t it? If you are lost you are not in the place you ought to be. Thus, you will not be able to fulfill the purpose associated with being where you were supposed to be. If you get lost on your way to an important meeting, you cannot fulfill your purpose of being at that meeting, whether that was to contribute something to the meeting or learn something from others.

The same is true if you lose something. Suppose you lose your keys. I imagine at least a few of us have experienced that frustration! I remember early in our marriage one time when Daniela couldn’t find her car keys. This had happened several times before, so I said to her, “Why don’t you decide on one place to always put your keys, and then they will always be there.” That sounded like a perfectly logical idea for a left-brained person like me. Daniela responded that she had three places where she kept her keys. “Oh,” I said, “and what are they?” She replied, “On the table, on the kitchen counter, or wherever I last put them!” That third category seemed to be fairly popular.

If your keys are lost, they obviously are not where they are supposed to be. And because they are in the wrong place they are not able to fulfill their purpose, which is perhaps to start your car. But the purpose of the keys is really greater than merely to start your car. The purpose of the keys is to serve the owner of the car by enabling the owner to get where he or she needs to go, so that they can then see whom they need to see or do what they need to do. If the keys are separated from the owner because they are lost, you could say they are not integrated into the life of the owner and thus cannot fulfill their purpose.

Being lost is a serious problem. That’s why the Bible speaks about being lost. In fact, in Luke 15 Jesus told three parables about being lost. He spoke of a shepherd who lost one of his sheep, a woman who lost a coin, and most importantly, a father who lost a son. That’s the parable I would like us to focus on this morning. It is found in Lk. 15: 11-32.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

Probably most of us are familiar with this parable, typically known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but more accurately it should be called the Parable of the Loving Father. You may have read it numerous times. You may have heard a number of sermons preached on this parable. In fact, I believe this is the third or fourth time I’ve preached on this passage just since I’ve been in Malaysia. But all those sermons have been different. The main point of the parable relates to the extravagant, forgiving love of the father, which speaks of God’s extravagant love for us. But there is so much in this parable, so many lessons to learn. Today I want to concentrate specifically on what it means to be lost, and then to be found.

The father had a son who was lost. That’s what the father told both the servants and the older son – that the younger son had been lost, but now he was found. What did it mean that the son was lost? Well, it wasn’t that he was lost in that he didn’t know where he was. The son knew perfectly well where he was while he was in the distant country, and when he reached rock-bottom and chose to return home, he knew the way home. So being lost had nothing to do with his geographical location.

Ultimately, the son was lost relationally. He was lost from his father. He separated himself from his father, not only because geographically he was now living far from his father. More importantly, he severed his relationship with his father. He did that in two ways. First, by asking for his inheritance before his father died, according to the norms of that culture in essence he said to his father, “I wish you were dead! Your money is more important to me than you are, so I’d rather have you out of the picture so I could have your money.” That will certainly damage a relationship!

And then, of course, by leaving he was breaking his relationship with his father. But it wasn’t just a matter of living in a different location. People can live far from each other yet still nurture a meaningful relationship with each other across the miles. But for the son, leaving physically symbolized his desire to cut himself off from his father. He left and had nothing more to do with his father. The son chose not be integrated into the life and world of his father. Thus, he was lost from his father. Later, the son was found when he returned and once again was integrated into the life of his father and their relationship was restored.

And so from a biblical standpoint, to be lost is relational in nature. It means we are not where we are supposed to be relationally. If we are lost it means we are not living in relationship with our Heavenly Father as the son was not with his father. We are separated from God and thus we are not integrated into His purpose for our lives. That, of course, means we cannot fulfill our purpose.

Those two orchestra members were not where they were supposed to be, which meant they were not integrated into the orchestra, and thus they were not able to fulfill their purpose.

The son in the parable was lost because he chose to separate himself from his father. And so he could not fulfill his purpose as a son in his father’s house. He could not undertake the responsibilities that would have been his. He could not exercise a growing sense of authority in the household. Most importantly, he missed out on living in relationship with his father; he forfeited all the love, joy, and affirmation that would have been his if he had maintained a meaningful relationship with his father. That’s the real tragedy of being lost – you cannot fulfill your purpose.

Of course, Jesus told this parable as a way of describing our relationship with God. The main point has to do with the incredible, measureless love of our Heavenly Father whose grace and forgiveness extend far beyond what we have any right to expect. And one of the ways we see the depth of God’s love for us is that even when we are lost God never stops loving us. Even when we have separated ourselves from God so that our life is not integrated into the life of God, God still loves us.

As encouraging as that good news is, however, we must not allow that to distort our understanding so we conclude, “It doesn’t matter how I live because God will still love me.” It’s true, God will always love us. But when we are lost because like the younger son we have separated ourselves from God, we must see all that we are missing.

Of course, if we continue in that pattern, we miss out on the gift of eternal life. But today I want to address what we miss out on in this life. If we are not integrated into a relationship with God, we cannot fulfill the high purposes for which God made us. That includes enjoying a deep and intimate relationship with God. Obviously, if we are lost because we have separated ourselves from God we will forfeit all the joy and satisfaction that come when we live in close relationship with God. We won’t experience the transformation of our character by the power of the Holy Spirit; we miss out on how God wants to shape and form us. We won’t experience God’s presence, guidance and faithfulness – and part of God’s purpose is that we experience those things.

And God’s purpose for us is that we participate with Him in the work of His kingdom, impacting others and making a difference in this world. But we lose out on that high purpose and grand privilege if we are lost, living far from God. And of course, if we are not experiencing the joy and satisfaction that come with being integrated into God and His purposes for our lives, we will most likely end up filling our lives with things that only lead to pain, disillusionment, and bitterness, as was true for the younger son.

The real danger for us as we consider this parable is that we might conclude it doesn’t really apply to us. We may think, “I haven’t gone off the deep end like the younger son. I’m not living in complete rebellion against my Heavenly Father. Or if I did at one time, that’s not the case now. My relationship with God is important to me. I attend church. I give. I serve. I’m not living like a prodigal son or daughter.”

But the truth is, we don’t have to live in total rebellion, like the younger son, to be lost. We can be lost in more subtle ways. We can be lost from our Father even while in the Father’s house, as was true for the older son. Physically, the older son was close to his father; he was right there in the father’s house. Yet relationally there was great distance between them. The older son thought his purpose as a son was simply to work in the field and do the chores. The older son didn’t understand the quality of life and depth of relationship his father offered him. Because he misunderstood that, he missed out on so much joy. He was not able to fulfill the depth of purpose that was his. And he was filled with resentment toward his father, as his remarks at the end of the parable make clear.

We can be lost, not in the sense that we totally separate ourselves from God, but rather we can be lost in particular areas of our lives. Like the older son living in his father’s house yet still in some ways being lost from his father, we can in a general sense live out our relationship with God, but in certain areas still be lost.

It could be that we are lost when it comes to money and possessions. We haven’t integrated that part of our lives into the will of our Heavenly Father. We are not where we are supposed to be as it relates to money and things. If that’s the case, we miss out on God’s purpose for us in this area of our lives. Our desire for money and possessions will likely control us in an unhealthy way. It will drive us to always be giving more time and energy to gaining more. We will live in fear that we won’t ever have enough. We will likely end up living with feelings of self-pity because we will never have as much as we think we need, or with feelings of inferiority, because we don’t have as much as our neighbors have.

Furthermore, we won’t experience the freedom that comes from trusting our Heavenly Father that He will provide what we need. If we do not integrate that part of our lives into our relationship with God, we will miss out on the good purpose that God has for us because our thirst for more and more will control us.

God’s purpose is that we enjoy what we have, but we’re not always craving for more, and so we can’t enjoy what we already have. God’s purpose is that we become good stewards of what we have so we know the joy of using some of what we have to help others and further the work of God. God’s purpose is that we know the freedom of trusting that God will provide all we need, and that we experience the wonder of His faithfulness. We miss out on that if we have not integrated our money and possessions into our relationship with Christ.

We can be lost from our Heavenly Father when it comes to our work. Work is a good thing, but how easily it comes to claim a place in our lives that it shouldn’t. The purpose of our work is that we use the gifts and abilities God has given us to serve the wider community in a way that is beneficial to others and satisfying to us – and of course, in the process to provide for ourselves and our families. We can do that whether we’re an accountant, a doctor, a teacher, a business person, an engineer, a mechanic, a farmer, etc. Those are all ways of serving the community.

The danger is that our work can come to dominate our lives so that it crowds out other important relationships and activities. We may look to our work to find our sense of value, instead of discovering our value in our relationship with God and His love for us. When this happens we are lost, for we have not integrated our career into our Christian discipleship. We have wandered off the path God has wisely established for our work life, and thus we miss God’s purpose both for our work and for much of the rest of our lives which are adversely affected by our misguided approach to our career.

We may be lost from God when it comes to certain attitudes we have. Perhaps we cherish an attitude of resentment towards someone who hurt us, or an attitude of bitterness because of our circumstances in life. If we have integrated our attitudes into Christ and our relationship with Him, then resentment will be replaced by forgiveness; bitterness will give way to contentment. It could have to do with certain habits that we cling to that separate us from God and His ways and thus damage us. There may be particular relationships we have that we have not integrated into God’s good purpose for our lives.

Any aspect of our lives that we choose to rule over instead of letting God rule over, any part of our lives that we have not integrated into our relationship with God is an area in which we are lost. We are not where we are supposed to be. And being lost in any of these ways will prevent us from fulfilling God’s purposes for our lives. It will prevent us from arriving at our destination, which is maturity in Christ.

So it’s obvious that we don’t have to completely reject God to be lost. We can be close to God in some ways yet be separated from God when it comes to other aspects of our lives. But to the degree that we have not integrated our lives fully into God, we will miss out on His good purposes for our lives.

This helps us understand what Jesus meant in Jn. 15:4-5. There Jesus said:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

God desires that our lives be fruitful, that we produce good things with our lives. That relates to what we do. God wants us to be fruitful in that we accomplish things with our lives that contribute to the work of the kingdom of God, be that within the church or out in the world.

It involves our character. As we grow in the fruit of the Spirit – things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – we become more Christ-like people. And then by means of our character we are able to bear fruit in that we impact the world and the people around us in a positive, God-honoring way.

It has to do with our relationships. To be fruitful in our relationships means that we are involved with others in such a way as to encourage one another, support one another, and spur one another on to greater growth as people and as followers of Jesus.

In short, to be fruitful means we are able to accomplish our purpose, the things for which God created us. That means that we are doing things that are meaningful, things that have lasting significance, and thus lead to a sense of satisfaction. And the key to this kind of life, said Jesus, is that we remain in Him. Or as other versions render it, that we abide in Him.

That means all of our lives are integrated into Christ and our relationship with Him, so that we can then fulfill His purpose for our lives. No aspect of our lives is lost, or separated from Christ, for to that extent we will not be able to bear fruit with our lives. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit if it is not integrated into the vine, neither can we bear fruit if our lives are not fully integrated into Christ and His purposes for us.

It would be good for all of us to periodically examine our lives to see if there are ways in which we are lost from God, aspects of our lives that are not integrated into God and His purposes for us. As we’ve seen, it could relate to our finances, our character, our sexuality, our career, our relationships, etc. For the truth is, we can easily be unaware of our own state of lostness. We can deceive ourselves, or deny the truth, or just be oblivious to the fact that we are lost in a particular area of our life. As Dallas Willard observed, “Many a driver is lost long before he knows he is – though rarely before his wife knows it. Many are lost before God but do not know it.” So we need to examine our lives.

Musicians separated from the orchestra cannot fulfill their purpose. Keys separated from their owner are unable to accomplish their purpose. A son separated from his father misses out on his purpose. We don’t have to end up like that. As we choose to abide in Christ, as we surrender every aspect of our lives to Christ, we will accomplish His purpose in all these areas of our lives – which are always better than any alternatives we come up with. We will have the assurance that our lives are counting for something of eternal value. And we will bear the fruit that leads to fulfillment and joy.

Jesus calls out to each of us, “Come unto Me. Remain in Me. Integrate all of your being, your whole life into Me and My will for you. For my plans for you are good. My purpose for you is that you experience the joy and wonder of an intimate, life-giving relationship with Me. And my purpose is that you take the gifts, abilities, and opportunities I have given you and use them in a way that impacts others and is rewarding for you.

“You matter to Me, every part of your life matters. As you integrate your whole life into Me and My purposes for you, you will experience the satisfaction of a life well-lived.”

Jesus offers us all that. Let’s not settle for anything less.