The Great Penguin Rescue

Our annual family vacation this year led us to Panama City Beach in the panhandle of Florida.  My wife is an expert vacation strategist, and this summer getaway was one of our best.  Great hotel on the beach, good food, and moderate ocean waves all coalesced to form a much needed retreat from the real world.  All good vacations must come to an end however, and this one was no exception.  As the week wrapped up, our entourage loaded up the vehicle and drove away from the resort that we called home for the last four days.  We were sad to see it go. 

We decided to make one last stop at a local tourist shop on the way out of town - about three miles from the hotel to be exact.  After all, one cannot be expected to visit far away lands without indulging in some consumerism, right?  It was definitely souvenir time!

On the way to the store, my youngest son noticed that we had packed everything ... except his penguin pillow pet.  What is a pillow pet you might ask?  They are the incarnation of an ingenious marketing idea about ten years ago, that turned a normal pillow into whatever type of animal a child could possibly desire.  In this particular case, nothing but a penguin would suffice.  It had sentimental value beyond compare, akin to the old days when kids would carry around a blanket everywhere.  

A quick discussion took place between my wife and I at that moment.  The gist of the dilemma was obvious: is retrieving the penguin pillow from the hotel worth turning the car around and losing valuable time on the road?  It was late in the day, and we still had a nine hour drive ahead of us.  The decision was eventually made - I would go back to the resort and rescue the pillow while everyone else stayed behind and continued shopping.  Hopefully it was still there where he had left it.  What if another child found it and decided it would look better with his family instead?

The way back to the hotel provided ample time to consider various ways to put aside my frustration.  The situation was replete with spiritual meaning of course, and I couldn't help but think of one of Jesus' most famous parables from the Bible.  The story of the lost sheep occurs in both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke.  For our purposes here, we will quote Luke 15.  Scripture says, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.  Doesn't he 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.'"  

It appears that God cares not only about His followers nestled safely in His church, but also for those who have wandered away from the faith.  He cares enough to leave and go after that one lost soul who, for whatever reason, has decided that he or she doesn't need God.  Fellow armchair Bible scholars will note here that there are similarities to the parable of the lost coin, as well as the story of the prodigal son.  All three of these stories relate the idea that God cares for everyone, and not just those who are exhibiting "good behavior" or Christian living.  

At the risk of over simplifying this parable, it would appear that God feels it worth the trouble to turn the car around and head back to the hotel for the penguin pillow.  It appears that He would have it no other way.  And it would also seem - though often we may wish otherwise - that God thinks us worth the effort of rescuing even when we don't want to be rescued.  Now this can be very inconvenient.  It often interferes with some of the other things in our life.  After all, the hotel is nice, right?  It's straight off the beach, and it offers free breakfast.  Can't we just stay lost once in a while?

The fact of the matter is that no one stays "lost" unless they want to.  God will pursue us relentlessly.  He desires that no one be out of reach from the love of Christ.  He will meet us in our darkest hour, in our most broken state, and there is no hotel lobby anywhere where He cannot come and save us ... beachfront property or otherwise.

As I rounded the curve and pulled my car up to the resort entrance, I hopped out and left the engine running.  There was no time to waste.  Failure wasn't an option on this mission; there was too much riding on the rescue.  A quick glance around the lobby revealed nothing.  I staggered up to the front desk and breathlessly asked the attendant if they had seen a small, black and white pillow shaped like a penguin.  No luck.  She left me briefly to check the lost and found while I paced around nervously, wondering what I was going to tell my son.

Against all odds, one of the cleaning people found the pillow sitting on the floor, shoved behind one of the sofas.  Success at last!  After thanking everyone profusely, I muddled my way back to the car and sped away toward the tourist shop.  The following nine hours in the car would now go by much faster, and with far less tension.  There would be no tears shed today.

The Bible tells us that God and all the heavenly host rejoice when even one sinner repents and becomes born again.  God will not rest until all one hundred of those sheep are back within the safety of the pasture.  Wandering off can be fun sometimes I suppose, maybe even an adventure.  But I will take the feeling of being safe and sound at home over an impersonal hotel lobby any day.  Wouldn't you?



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