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“But go rather to the lost sheep … ” (Matthew 10:5).
Taken in context, Jesus is telling the disciples to bring the good news of salvation to Israel first. We know that later Jesus Himself will heal Gentiles, and Philip will lead the Ethiopian to salvation and Paul will be sent specifically to reach the Gentiles, but here at the beginning, the focus of the gospel was to the House of Israel.
But just looking at those seven simple words, don’t you love God’s heart for the lost sheep?
When I read this passage this morning and I came to that particular verse, I remembered back at the beginning of our ministry, when God sent me a dream about His sheep.
We had come home from seminary knowing that the start of our church would be small and simple. We have never ascribed to the strategic church-planting mindset that began to be so popular in the 1990s. There would be no canvassing of the neighborhood with pulse-taking surveys, no innovative gimmicks, no attempts at palate-pleasing, no glitzy, postmodern postcards apologizing for “obnoxious Christianity” and promising to “do it better” (Oh, that just annoys me to no end.) What there would be was a small circle of folding chairs set up on our front lawn, and a pot of soup on the stove in case someone came hungry, and knees on the ground as Dave and I, alone, prayed and asked the God of all to send a sheep or two our way.
And He did. He sent exactly one that first Tuesday night. Well, two, if you count the dog that accompanied Mike Macy and his conga. The next week, two or three more found their way down our long, winding driveway. And by the end of the summer, we had 28 sheep.
I remember looking at those faces and thinking, So you’re the people we’ve been praying for. During our time in seminary, we had felt an urging from God to pray for the ones He would send, and it was nice to finally see their faces.
Dave went through a struggle during this time, though. He had returned home with some strong convictions. He believed in teaching verse-by-verse through the Bible, and he wouldn’t deviate from that. As he would say, “God inspired every word, so we should probably study every word.” He also didn’t want to pass an offering plate. His reasoning was that tithing was an act of worship between a believer and God, and if someone gave to our church, it would be because they loved God, not because we had put a plate in front of them. So Dave put an Agape box in the back of the church (and that’s how it’s been to this day). And lastly, Dave had a strong conviction that he wanted to reach unbelievers and start our church with them. He didn’t want to come sweeping back into town and be “that pastor” — the one who set to work stealing sheep from all the other shepherds. He didn’t want already-Christians to come; he wanted us to grow our own. And it was just a little bit dismaying to him when, week after week, Christians began coming. “Where are they coming from?” He’d say. “Why did they leave their last church?” It wasn’t that he wanted to send them away; he just felt guilty that they were with us. That hadn’t been his plan.
But then one night I had a dream. In it, I saw Dave standing in a field in front of a very long row of banquet tables all pushed up together and covered with burgundy tablecloths. Those tables held piles and piles of food — good food, and nourishing. No fluff. It was all meat and potatoes, and other vegetables, and bread, and fruit … and there was plenty.
Dave was standing behind the center table with his hands behind his back, just gazing out at the empty field and waiting. And as I looked from him to the far end of the field, I could see tiny specks coming slowly toward us. As they came into view, I could see that they were sheep. And as they drew closer, I could see that they were sheep so starved, their ribs were showing.
I woke up knowing what God was telling us. Who He sent to us wasn’t our concern. Feeding them was.