I have been owned by dachshunds long enough to know three things. First, they do not ask for attention; they demand it. Second, the intensity of their midnight “potty urgency” corresponds directly to the depth of my sleep. And third, they have ADD.
Of my three wiener dogs, the one who most embodies these tendencies is Missy. One recent night she jumped off the bed – which means, “I gotta go now!” My wife heard her before I did, and went downstairs to let her out.
Soon after, my wife started calling, “Mis-sy!” (which sounds really loud at 3:00 in the morning). She then called to me that she couldn’t find Missy and needed help looking.
So I checked around to make sure Missy hadn’t slipped back upstairs (she hadn’t), and then went down to search for her.
As I walked down our long driveway, flashing my flashlight back and forth, I caught a small movement. It was Missy, wandering down the street.
I called her. Her head snapped in my direction, and she bolted to me.
I scooped her up and held her tight.
When we returned to bed she burrowed under the covers and pressed her body against me, shivering. All night long she clung to me, as if terrified of losing me again.
I surmised that while doing her business she got distracted by something, ran out to the street to check it out, and lost her bearings in the darkness. When I first saw her she seemed to be exploring different driveways, looking for the right one. When I called her she rushed to me, flooded with joy and relief.
It made me think: Do I remember what it was like to be lost? Or, even more important: Do I remember what it was like to be found?
I had just been reading one of Jesus’s parables about “lost” things – the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
In this story, a young man goes to his father and demands his inheritance – a very crude thing to do to someone who is still living. Basically, he is saying to his father’s face: “You mean nothing to me. I wish you were dead.”
But surprisingly, the father grants the son’s wish and gives him his inheritance. So the son takes it, travels to distant lands, and squanders it faster than a Powerball winner. He falls so low that he takes a job feeding pigs (unclean animals, to a Jew) and becomes so hungry that he craves the pods they are eating – yet “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16, NIV).
It dawns on him that although he has abused his father and destroyed his position of sonship, perhaps he could return to his father as one of the servants, who have food and shelter.
So he returns.
The most amazing moment in this parable is what happens when this young man’s scraggly carcass appears just over the horizon: “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” (Luke 15:20, NIV).
Two observations catch my attention here. First, the father spotted him from a distance. This means the father had been watching for him, anxiously awaiting his return all this time. And second, the father is so thrilled at the sight that he runs to him. If the father’s character is that of God, then Jesus has just described the only time in the Bible when God ran.*
This is an intense image. It shows how desperately God wants to blast through the obstacles between him and us.
The cross does that.
In Luke 16, the prodigal son has reached the end of the line, the bottom of the barrel. It seems he has broken his father’s heart beyond repair. So he is hoping for a chance to return home in some low position; he isn’t expecting much.
Think of his fear as he realizes just how lost and alone he really is. When he had money, I’m sure he had all the rich food, fancy possessions, and good-time friends he could want. But now, it’s all gone. He’s broke and hungry, with no money to provide even minimal safety on the long journey back home. At any point he could have fallen victim to an accident, assault, or even murder, never to be found again.
Being “out there” is scary when you finally realize how alone you are, how badly you need to be found, and how unlikely it is that the one you’ve hurt should ever take you back.
So imagine the son’s initial bewilderment, turning to incredulous joy as his father runs to him and calls for a giant “welcome home” celebration.
This story is perfect for Lent, during these weeks leading up to the cross. It reminds me of Missy bounding to me, overjoyed to be found by someone who loves her.
Do I remember the feeling of being found by the One who loves me?
Do I remember the joy of being plucked out of the dark – lifted from isolation into security? Do I cling to my Savior in relief that I am safe in his grasp? Do I remember the happiness that I am no longer lost, but am now found?
Or am I beyond that now because I am too educated, too mature, too independent to need him?
No. The cross daily reminds me that I am still a broken man who will never be beyond needing Jesus. I am still as capable as ever of getting lost in the cold darkness – and I still need to listen for his voice, calling me to him. I still will run to him, rejoicing greatly that I am found.
The cross is a reminder that there will never come a time when I do not need Jesus.
* See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asU6FXnHWus for Benny Hester’s 1985 song with this title.