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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When you are lost in the fog

You may have missed it but Ormskirk made national prominence yesterday, on the Radio 4 Today programme. John Humphreys, in reviewing the newspapers, reported an item from the Daily Mail (renown for its factual accuracy) of a woman getting spectacularly lost in the fog. Mrs. Shelia Fitzgerald left Ormskirk on her way home to nearby St Helens, only to be found eight hours later– and here I quote: “until she was finally spotted in the early hours of the morning in Lancashire.” Clearly neither Mr Humphreys nor the Daily Mail realised that Ormskirk is itself in Lancashire. In fact, the Ormskirk Advertiser tells us she was found by police in Gisburn. And she’s fine. But we all have our own stories of being spectacularly lost. I have some wonderful stories from my own family. The most impressive comes from my brother-in-law in the early days of the motorway network, before the M6 was linked to the M1. Driving from Liverpool to London, his passengers finally insisted that he wind down the window and ask where they were. Reluctantly he acceded only to discover they were in South Wales, 140 miles adrift. That would never happen today, of course, with GPS. As Stephen Smith observes: “We're raising an entire generation of men who will never know what it is to refuse to ask for directions.” (The door bell, at this hour!) (The plumber has arrived – this could take a while. You’ve just have to wait. ) Being lost is a key metaphor for our human experience (Daughter and granddaughters appear). Start again: Being lost is a key metaphor for our human experience. We all know what it means – that sense, panic even, of not knowing where we are, where to go, what turn to take. Life is just one big Skelmersdale. It is an image frequently used by Jesus, most vividly of the lost sheep. And the joy of being found: “Then (the shepherd) calls his friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:6). In fact, Jesus sees his main purpose in seeking the lost: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). And generations of Christian ever since have described their coming to faith in Christ as being found by the Good Shepherd”, most memorably by reformed slave trader, John Newton. “I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” So what does this particular metaphor of being lost teach us? First, we need to realise that we are lost. My daughter was blissfully driving up the M6 when she should have been driving down the M6. She had no idea that Lancaster was not on the conventional route to Derby, until she phoned me. Life does have a purpose, a direction. To quote the influential Westminster Shorter Catechism, written long before inclusive language: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” To say “I am lost” is a hugely important theological statement: it allows for the fact that you can be lost for the simple reason that there is a purpose to life. Albert Camus is frightening wrong when he advises: “You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Sadly there are so many people, like Mrs. Fitzgerald, happily driving through the byways of rural Lancashire. Fortunately for her the police, at the request of her daughter, were looking for her. Ad the good news is that God is looking for us. He sends Jesus to find us. Being lost is a key theme in Luke’s Gospel. In fact, he groups the three parables of being lost together in chapter 15: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost (or Prodigal) son. It’s important that we take all three together. Neither the lost sheep nor the lost coin does anything to be found. They are just picked up. Here we see God’s commitment to finding us. But that’s only part of the story. But the lost son needs to come to his senses and make a conscious decision to return and rely on his father’s grace. The New Testament calls this repentance – deciding to change our minds and change direction. As C S Lewis reflects: “If you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.” The most difficult decision when we are lost is to stop and turn round. But the Good News is that when we do, we find our loving Father running towards us, eager to embrace his lost-lost child. “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.”

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