Lost in Church

churchHave you ever had a dream or an actual experience of being lost? Nothing is quite as frightening as the sensation of not knowing where one is, and of course, not knowing how to get back to familiar territory. Probably all of us have at times become disoriented when traveling, missed an exit, or wandered into places or areas where we have never been before. Praise the Lord for maps, and modern ways of finding ones way through the mazes of traffic lanes and cross country travel which so many of us do today.

But back to my original question. There are many ways to be lost – all of which are at least mildly uncomfortable, and may range from potentially dangerous to completely disastrous, depending upon the circumstances.

planeI remember one such time when my husband was piloting a small airplane across country with our little family, coming home from Thanksgiving vacation with his grandparents in Philadelphia, PA. Suddenly we found ourselves in a snow squall, enveloped in white swirling clouds, looking in vain for a patch of land below which would reassure us of our bearings.

As time passed and tensions mounted, my husband continually checked his instruments, and kept me immersed in the air map. Since we were in a mountainous area, we needed to be able to see the terrain as well, in order to fly safely above the highest peaks, but not so high that we could not come quickly down to an airport to wait out the storm.

Suddenly my husband saw a hole in the clouds, located a small airport, and darted down to safety, where we waited until the storm passed and we could resume our journey home. I truly believe that God guided us to that little airport and opened a window for us just long enough for us to glide to safety. So although we felt lost for a little while, we really weren’t, because our loving God knew our whereabouts, and had a plan all mapped out for us. So to put it mildly, it’s not fun to be lost. At least, not if you know you are lost, and you don’t know how to find your way home.

TabbyTwo weeks ago, our cat, Tabby, found this out the hard way. When our daughter, Karen, rushed out the door at 5:15 a.m. to go to work at the Review & Herald, Tabby dashed out, too. Because Karen was scheduled to give the worship talk that morning, she stopped by the children’s Sabbath school room at our little church next door and picked up the felt board. Putting it in the back of the car, she was off to work for the day.

When evening came, Tabby had not returned. That seemed a bit strange, for Tabby is always there to greet Karen, who is his chosen person. Night came, and no Tabby. And not the next day or the next. We were beginning to think we would never see him again.

On the fourth day, my sister, who is an animal lover, decided to walk the grounds and nearby woods, in case he might be injured and crying for help. As she passed the windows of the children’s Sabbath school room, she heard some faint squeaking sounds. Peering in one window, she saw our beloved kitty. Calling out to me, she headed for our house to get the key. I raised the window to find out what all the noise was about, and heard her jubilant cry, “He’s here! Tabby’s in the children’s room!”

Well, of course, in a few minutes we had our little furry friend in our arms, welcoming him home, praising him for not even relieving himself on the brand new carpet, giving him food and drink, and attending to his every need. I guess he felt like a returning hero for a few days, until we all settled down and things became normal again.

Since then, I have been pondering the lessons learned by that experience. Number one is: Don’t let the cat slide in the church door when you aren’t looking. But even more important than that are the lessons we can learn about people.

I keep wondering how many people, like Tabby are lost in church. I have begun to feel a bit sheepish about having let 3 1/2 days go by without walking the grounds myself. I just kept thinking that he would come back on his own; or that if he didn’t, there really wasn’t much I could do about it. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, or that I didn’t feel bad about it, or that I didn’t miss him. But I was busy. I was busy doing good things and important things, and I didn’t take out time to go hunting for Tabby.

So I have been wondering - am I doing the same thing with people? Are there precious souls out there crying, wishing someone would hear them, wishing someone would call, or come by, or come looking for them?

Tabby must have been crying the whole 3 1/2 days, because his voice was down to a hoarse squeak, and didn’t come back to normal for days. And what about people? Are all the people who are smiling in church really smiling deep inside? Don’t we sometimes put on a smile to hide our pain from others who don’t really care?

Years ago, my friend, Christa, and I decided to go through the church records and find the names of people who had once belonged to our congregation, but had, for some reason, stopped coming.

There we found the names of a couple who had been at one time very active in the church, but who had not been attending for several years. Christa and I were rather new to this congregation, so we did not know these people. Why we chose this particular couple, I do not recall. But Christa decided to visit them and become acquainted.

When she returned from the first visit, Christa was glowing with excitement. She found these people to be delightful and friendly, but having been hurt by things that happened while they were in the church. Soon I was doing a bit of counseling with them, and as the visits continued, a friendship developed. Old hurts were put away, and their faith in God was renewed. They returned to church and have been faithful members to this day.

Although they have moved to a different location, we retain our connection with each other, and our mutual hope in our soon-coming Lord and Savior. They are no longer estranged from the body of Christ.

Remembering this story makes me wonder how many are like this precious couple; how many are still waiting for someone to reach out and touch their lives with the healing ministry of reconciliation. I’m so glad for people who, like my sister, Linda, do not wait to see if people will return from the pain of their wounded hearts, but who go out looking and listening for their cries, go out hoping to find the lost ones, go out expecting to bring back the ones who have wandered off and cannot find their way back.

I am also appreciative of those who make a practice of noticing the person who sits in the back seat so he or she can slip quietly out during the last song, and heads them off in the foyer with a smile, a hearty handshake, and an invitation to dinner.

I applaud the faithful members with a shepherd’s heart who always remember your name, who look you straight in the eye and ask how your sick child is doing, who remember you faithfully in their daily prayers, and call you periodically just to tell you they care. I think lovingly of the pastors who visit you when you are sick, who express their appreciation of the work you do for the church, no matter how menial the task may be, and who don’t play favorites.

Of course, the list could go on, but I think you know what I mean. We all need loving friends, understanding acquaintances, and kind fellow travelers in this otherwise dark world where sin has marred so much in our environment. In short, we need people around us to be like Jesus, to show us in their lives what He is like, and how we can learn to be like Him, too.

I guess that means that I need to be more like my sister – to get out there where I can hear the little cries of the lost, get close enough to see the glistening tear, be sensitive enough to feel the unspoken needs of the people all around me who are waiting for the healing touch of the Master. Maybe if we all try to be more aware of what we can do to touch someone’s life with joy each day, no one will ever be lost in church again!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2 Cor. 5:17-20.