Have you ever seen that one last bag circling an otherwise empty track at an airport baggage claim and wondered what happens if no one claims it? Well, here’s one possibility: it could end up going to the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. This unique museum buys unclaimed bags from airlines, who sell them after the expiration of a mandatory claim period where they search for the bag’s owners before declaring it officially “unclaimed.”
The Center then displays, donates, or sells the contents of each bag in a massive building the size of a city block. This can lead to some amazing stories. One of my favorites was of a customer who bought a pair of ski boots for his wife, only to discover that they were the very same favorite pair of ski boots she had lost on a ski trip two years before. When he brought them home, she found her own maiden name written on the tag!
That story reminded me of a parable from the gospel of Luke, where Jesus talked about a shepherd who loses just one member of his flock, and rejoices when he finds it, calling all his friends to help him celebrate the return of his one lost sheep:
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” In the same way there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:4-7 NLT)
This woman who found her lost ski boots could have just purchased new ones. But what do you think she was more happy about: a new pair, or rediscovering the old ones that she knew and loved that had her own name written on them? In a much more powerful way, God too has claimed us as his own. He even tells us, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16 NIV).
But it seems that many people go through their lives resisting that love, turning away from God at every opportunity, or simply ignoring him whenever possible. Many are deceived about the nature and character of God, having heard lies about him or misunderstood what God is doing in the world—or even in their own lives.
So is it any surprise that all of heaven throws a party for even one man or woman who repents and turns back to Jesus? Jesus’ whole life and ministry was to seek and find the lost and make a way for them to return to their heavenly Father by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As members of Christ’s flock, whose names have been engraved on his hands, we’re assured that this is our eternal reality as well. We will never be “unclaimed.” If you ask me, that’s a pretty great reason to celebrate as well!
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of LIFE.