I was eighteen, at the end of my sophomore year in college, when my maternal grandfather, Victor E. LaRue, died 39 years ago today. I was very close to him – and I thought the world would come to an end when he died. In his career, he was larger than life – in the Chicago District Attorney’s office during the prosecution of Al Capone; a federal Referee in Bankruptcy, he had the first woman law partner in the State of Illinois; and a host of awards and honors too numerous to mention – but to me, he was Grandpa.
In his personal life, he had a laid back way about him – always patiently showing me how to do something, or, as the oldest grandchild, teaching me how to lead the family should something happen to my Dad. He believed in family, and as I grew older, I learned that this was because his own mother had died when Grandpa was thirteen, the same year he chose to go out on his own.
He eventually put himself through Northwestern University, including law school, married Grandma, and then had one child, my mother. And I could go on and on about all the great things he taught me, and how I loved him, but for some reason, all I can think about tonight was the story he told me on his deathbed about his biggest regret.
You see, Grandpa had a brother, and after having lost both his mother and younger sister to tuberculosis in the early 1900’s, he and his brother grew very close. However, during the late 1920’s, when Capone was trying to recruit Grandpa to be his personal attorney at an annual salary of $100,000, his brother was offered a job as a minor hoodlum in the Capone gang. Sadly, Grandpa’s bother accepted the offer and chose to spend his career on the wrong side of the law, while my grandfather, who had been given thirty days to consider the offer, ultimately declined. Eventually, as history has borne out, Capone was prosecuted for income tax evasion and spent his life in prison. In a strange twist of fate, Grandpa was one of the architects of the prosecution’s case.
In the process, my grandfather stopped communicating with his brother, and as he later told me, he “wrote off” his sibling. In fact, he never knew what became of his brother. And now, years later, here he was, in a hospital, near death, and all he could think about was how he had made a terrible mistake by not tracking down, and reconciling with, his brother. I could tell that this really haunted him; especially knowing how important family was to him. I did not, and never will, have all the facts. But I do remember that he begged me to never make a similar mistake in my life.
So as I sit here this evening, I am thinking about the parable of the lost sheep. You know – the story where a shepherd is watching 100 sheep and one wanders off. In Luke 15:3-7, we read, “Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Grandpa always felt that he gave up on his brother, and that he should have tried to help him. Regrettably, that never happened – the lost sheep was never found. But Christ never gives up on us. Notice the rejoicing in heaven that will occur when one sinner repents – God always celebrates people who are saved from being lost. And as Christians, we are encouraged to help people accept the gift of eternal life. And if we periodically stray from the flock, you have Christ’s commitment that He will come after you, find you, and bring you back into the fold. Now this does not mean that God wants you to go wander off – but if you do, He will find you. I don’t know about you, but I sure like having that assurance from God.
So my encouragement tonight is to let you know that God will always seek you – in fact, relentlessly pursue you; and find you! And my prayer is that you will always be on the look-out for lost sheep, and do everything you can to bring them into the flock. Because God does not need our help, but we need His, and I, for one, do not want to look back on my life and have regrets about falling short of my ability to assist others find eternal life in Jesus Christ. Have a great day in the Lord.