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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Lost and Found

May 10, 2020

What do you search the most for?

Most of us have experienced the sadness of losing something of value. And most of us – hopefully – have also experienced the joy of finding some of these lost objects. There are spiritual truths to be found in all this, so let me mention three things that happened to me yesterday: a lost book, a lost ring, and a lost treasure.

Over the years I have mentioned the many advantages of having a large library. But at times I have also mentioned some of the downsides to it. One chief disadvantage is when a book gets lost or misplaced. Every so often I will be looking for one of my volumes and it is just nowhere to be found.

It is not where it is supposed to be, nor even where it might be. Some books are rather obvious as to where they should live: a Galatians commentary should be in my Galatians commentary section. But some books can be equally placed in a number of topical locations. So I spent nearly two hours yesterday trying to find this book. I even got my wife and son to briefly join in the search.

The book, a biography of a famous Christian apologist, did in fact eventually turn up – wait for it – in my Galatians commentary section! How it got there I will never know. So I finally found it, but I wasted a fair amount of time doing so. But the latter joy of course helped to offset the earlier pain.

Also yesterday, I was flicking through an older book by the same apologist – Ravi Zacharias – only to find him talking about a newspaper article he noticed while he was living in Cambridge. It involved a woman whose husband had died over 15 years earlier. Soon after his death she lost her wedding ring. She of course searched everywhere but never found it.

One day much later as she was digging around in her garden, she struck something – a stone perhaps. Kneeling down and using her hands, she discovered her lost ring! She let out such a yell of joy that her neighbours came out to see what had happened. The newspaper photo showed her with a grand smile on her face as she held the ring up high.

The third part of yesterday’s story had to do with my wife reminding me – while we were in the middle of the book search – of the parables of Jesus of folks looking for lost treasure. Once my lost book was found last night, I decided I must revisit these parables and write a piece on them. Thus this article.

Spiritual lessons

Actually, I have discussed these before. Nine years ago I wrote a somewhat similar article, which began this way:

Every single one of us either worships the one, true, living God, or we worship something else. It is that simple. Jesus once said that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our lives will always be devoted to something, and if it is not God, it will be something else.

Jesus also told a series of parables about this, and how very important it is to get our priorities right, and make God the supreme value in our life. We should make God, and His Kingdom, the ultimate treasure which we value above everything else.

In Luke 15 for example he offers us three such parables: the parable of the lost sheep (1-7); the parable of the lost coin (8-10); and the parable of the lost son (11-32). And in Matthew 13 we have two more of these parables: the parable of the hidden treasure (v. 44) and the parable of the pearl of great price (45-46).

They all speak to seeking after that which is of immense value, a treasure which consumes all our attention until it is found. The first three speak of God’s great love for the lost, and how very valuable he considers every single one of us. The last two deal with the overwhelming importance of seeking first the Kingdom of God, and paying any price to find it.

When we see God and his Kingdom as the greatest possible good, we will sacrifice anything to obtain him and it. No price is too big, no effort too large, and no sacrifice too great, to receive the greatest thing in this life and the next. billmuehlenberg.com/2011/11/14/where-your-treasure-is/

If you don’t mind, let me share with you a few more personal stories to help illustrate my point. The other day I was telling my wife of some sad memories I had concerning my childhood years. (Hmm, I seem to have more sad than happy memories – I guess I always have been a bit of a melancholic!)

Both of these involved something precious that I had lost. The first had to do with a show and tell time at school. We were close enough to walk back and forth to school, so I had taken my big box of plastic dinosaurs. I had made a little display for them and that was my presentation.

But when I got home I discovered one of them was missing – a brown triceratops to be exact. I of course ran back and forth between home and school a number of times looking for that lost dinosaur during the next few days– but to no avail.

The second story involves a toy machine gun my parents had just got for me. Perhaps as early as the next day a group of us went to an area with a lot of trees by the lake to play army. My friend’s older brother wanted to use my new toy, so I let him.

When we finished and went back home, I asked him where my gun was. He said he had left it on a tree stump back by the beach. I ran back, looked everywhere, but found nothing. Again, for many days afterwards I did the same thing – but no dice.

I share these stories for a few reasons. One, we all have lost certain things of value. Of course the loss of a loved one or of some great good, like one’s eyesight, is far more important than losing a mere toy dinosaur. Also, as I have mentioned before, my parents grew up during the Great Depression, so they were real sticklers for saving everything and wasting nothing.

I have certainly inherited those values. I really hate to waste – anything. So losing those toys was a real blow for me. But the point is, while most of us have lost certain things at times, every single one of us have lost the most important thing there is: our relationship with God.

That close, vibrant loving relationship with our heavenly Father that we were meant to have has been lost to us – by our own choice. We all have shaken our fists at God. We all have gone our own way. So God is searching for us, seeking to woo us back to himself.

The parable of the lost son mentioned above illustrates this nicely. While the prodigal son eventually returned home, it was really the loving father that predominates in the story. The father was the one who had been looking out for the son all along.

Image of The Gospel of Matthew: The King and His Kingdom Matthew 1-17 (Expositional Commentary)
The Gospel of Matthew: The King and His Kingdom Matthew 1-17 (Expositional Commentary) by Array Amazon logo

In relation to this idea of seeking for great treasures, and how that comes about, I like what James Montgomery Boice says about the two brief parables found in Matthew 13:44-46. They read: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Boice puts it this way:

The point of these parables lies in the nature and actions of those who discover the great treasure, which is the gospel. In these matters the man who discovered the treasure and the merchant who found the pearl are identical. They make every effort to possess what they discovered. There is a contrast that should not be overlooked, however. The man who found the hidden treasure was apparently not looking for it – his discovery was what we would call an accident – but in the case of the merchant, the finding of the pearl was the result of a long and faithful quest.

That contrast aptly describes the past experiences of people who find salvation. Some were not particularly anxious to find Christ – in fact, they were not even very interested in religion. They were going on their way when suddenly an unexpected thing confronted them: the gospel. They had never really heard it before. They were not seeking it. But there it was, and at once, with that insight granted by God’s internal work of regeneration, they saw that this was a prize of far greater value than anything that had ever come into their lives previously. They saw themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. They saw Jesus as that Savior. They recognized that if they had Him, they had all else besides. So, they turned to Him and believed, on the spot. Their case illustrates Isaiah’s words: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me” (Isa.65:1).

The other type of person is one who had sought God, though he had found the way difficult. It could be said of him as it is said in this hymn:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee.

But this person did not know during those years of seeking that God was seeking him as well. Those were dark years. At times he nearly despaired, but then suddenly the pearl of great price was before him, and he laid everything else aside to secure that most valued object. These are the people of whom Jesus spoke when he said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you” (Mt.7:7).

Here is where the main lessons of the two parables are to be found, for although the early experiences of these two men were different, once they had come upon the treasure, which is the Gospel, they acted in similar ways. What did they do? First, they recognized the value of what they had found. Second, they determined to have it. Third, they sold everything to make their purchase. Fourth, they acquired the treasure.

As I mentioned in my story of coming to Christ, in many ways I was on a spiritual journey. I was seeking. I was searching. But it would be more accurate to say that all along God was searching for me. I am glad in the end we made the connection. And not a moment too soon: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/27/coming-home-my-testimony-part-1/

The lessons for all of us should be clear. What matters most for you? What is the chief treasure in your life? What do you seek for most earnestly? Is it a treasure that will perish, or one that will have eternal dividends? Seek wisely my friend.

One day all that we now have will be gone. Then what? As Jesus put it, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

[1948 words]

8 Responses to Lost and Found

  • “Every single one of us either worships the one, true, living God, or we worship something else.”
    I once told a person who claimed to be atheist “you can’t worship nothing; if you don’t worship God, you have replaced Him with yourself”.
    U2 had it expressed succinctly with their 1987 dong ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, from “The Joshua Tree” in 1987; listen carefully, & the Gospel is buried in verse 2.
    “Walk On” is an excellent volume on the Christian faith of the members of U2 by Rev Steve Stockman.

  • Powerful! Thank you Bill.

  • I lost a silver Parker pen that I have had for about five years while playing nine holes of golf last week. I asked the greenkeeper if I could drive back over my tracks and he said “go for it.” There was only two other chaps in a motorised buggy on the country course and I told them what I was doing.
    I tried to remember the shots that I had played on each of those nine holes and drove close by, but without success. I won that pen in a fundraiser and have done a lot of writing with it. It’s a bulky pen, not slim and I lost it once before on the third hole, but discovered the loss on the third green, so it was easy to find, but as I drove away, having left a note on the bulletin board, I was feeling rather sad.
    I turned to my pocket notebook and discovered that I had made a note from a text received during the round and that it was made halfway through the nine holes, so I drove back and decided to walk.
    From the ninth to the fifth, I searched my memory for the exact shots I had taken and there it was, shining on the fairway. The two chaps in the buggy were astounded. I think they had given me little hope of finding it, but I prayed and told myself that were was no use doing things by half, so I can understand how you searched your library for a couple of hours.
    It may sound like a small thing, but when you are going through a battle, little wins can make a big difference and in future, I’ll use a different pen when marking my card.

  • Sorry Bill, but as we continue to get older we seem to continue to ‘lose’ things, generally we just don’t see them right in front of us. You know the old gag: ‘as you get older you are always thinking of the hereafter. You wander from room to room saying “what am I here after?”‘. Keep searching.

  • Gee Bill, your past life did surprise me but then I remember all the ungodly things I got caught up in. I’ve only read Part 1 of your life. I also was influenced by the hippy/vegetarian society and ended up being anorexic at 16 but it made me realize I needed God. Thankfully I had been raised in a Christian home so at 18 I became a Born Again Christian. But I was still very insecure and took the first job I could get only to find out my boss was into pornography so when Mum found out I had to leave and try and find another job which meant leaving home and traveling to Sydney by myself to train for Australia Post. I ended up in a boarding house where I met my alcohol dependent husband. He was mainly verbally abusive but I was in fear nearly every night and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. When my first daughter was 3 he got hit by a car crossing the road drunk. While in hospital I had a pentecostal pastor pray for him, casting out the demons of alcohol abuse, smoking cigarettes etc and the next day he came out of the induced coma too quick so the nurses had to hold him down as he was trying to pull all the tubes out. When he did come home after a month in hospital he didn’t smoke for 2 months and gave up alcohol completely, thank God, but after going back to work he took up smoking again as others at work smoked but he made an effort not to drink alcohol. He lived another 5 years and died just after I became pregnant with my second daughter. After 3 years I remarried a Christian man this time who had two teenagers and we have had 22 years of marriage but when I look back, all I can say, only for God I don’t know how we would have made it.

  • Lovely lost and found stories Bill, and the biblical relevance to these stories. Some times in recent years, I have the problem of things going missing. I know their only missing, as in the back of my mind I know that I have placed the missing item in a safe place. Some of these items are irreplaceable and near impossible to replace, such as the wedding ring story. For about a month I suffered such consequence with the Volvo truck keys gone missing. It was a big relief to find them the other day in the glove box of my car. My Mother being RC, used to tell us to pray to St christophiser. She swore by it being very effective. My dear Mum always encouraged us 7 to pray, still miss her even now 33 years after her passing.
    R.I.P. Mum.
    Bill Heggers

  • Ravi Zacharias is currently gravely ill with a rare type of sarcoma which has metastasised and turned aggressive. For more, see his daughter’s posting on the RZIM website at: https://www.rzim.org/read/rzim-updates/an-update-on-ravi-zacharias-cancer .

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