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The One That Got Away

loss

There is a time in sports when everything is on the line.  No matter if it is game 7 of The World Series, The Super Bowl, or the championship game of the NCAA tournament. A moment when the ultimate shot at victory is within their reach.  In the end it is clear, there is one winner and one loser.  I have often heard athletes that have been on both sides of a win and a loss say that sometimes they remember the losses more than the wins; true champions do.  So how can we look at that and frame it to a discipleship principle?  We celebrate the people that have come forward and have decided to follow Jesus, but if we become a person that takes upon the great commission there are always those few people that get away and have fallen back into sins grasp.  Sometimes I remember those individuals more, and it saddens me a little knowing what I know about the power that Christ has in my life and wanting them to discover it as well.  Before I continue, I do want to clarify that we alone cannot save anyone, and we do not know where their ultimate salvation will lie; but when was the last time that you sat to ponder the lost ones and pray for them in the midst of victory that you see? There are two parables that Jesus spoke about concerning “the ones that got away”.  He used these simple stories to relate a bigger picture to those who were listening.

 

 

Parable of the Lost Sheep

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

So Jesus told them this story: “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!

Parable of the Lost Coin

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

So here are some things that we can challenge ourselves to emulate what Jesus is talking about.

1. No One Is Beyond Hope

Sometimes we look at the lost people with an attitude of frustration. Here Jesus points out that with him nothing is impossible and that each person holds high value to him.  He says 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!

2. Never Stop Looking

If we embrace our frustration and consider people beyond hope, we will miss opportunities to let heaven rejoice in these sinners that have been brought back. Again notice the urgency in the two stories, especially the woman with the lost coin.

Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? It indicates that she has exhausted her search to every nook and cranny of her home looking for the lost coin.

3. All You Need Is Love

I think in order to achieve the attitude of the first two points, we need to remember that one of the biggest principles in being disciples of Jesus, in fact it is the mark of a disciple, is love. Love for God with every ounce you have and Love for others. 

As I close this look at the lost, I am reminded of a song by Britt Nicole “The Lost Get Found”.  Within the lyrics she issues a great challenge to each of us. 

“So when you get the chance (when you get the chance) Are you gonna take it (are you gonna take it) There’s a really big world at your fingertips And you know you have the chance to change it There’s a girl on the streets, she’s cryin’
There’s a man whose faith is dying Love is calling you!”

So let us enter into a moment of prayer and reflection and a moment to light our lamp for others to shine for them in Christ. 

That’s How The Lost Get Found 

Jeremy 

The Easy Life

Narrow Path

Is this as easy as it gets? Yes. In my experience, things in life get more difficult and complicated as you get older. So, if you are 5 years old and reading this, celebrate, as these are the best years of your life! Seriously, though, I remember life being mostly worry-free through elementary school and into high school, even though teenage drama started showing up in different forms. Maybe it is just downhill after 20? Your body starts to wear down, your memory starts to lag, all the things you fear start showing up in different ways.  

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.   Matthew 7:13-14

In some ways of looking at it, going to work and having a job can seem a drag to some. As if there is nothing redeemable in what we do 40+ hours per week. Is it possible that we can even carry out our jobs as an offering or an act of worship toward God? This is possible, as it is more about your heart and attitude than the work you are performing. As much as we would like, there is no perfect job. There are always things about our job we wish were different or easier. The least favorite part of my job is probably the paperwork I am required to do. I know it is done for a reason, but it doesn’t seem to get much easier with all the practice that I have. The extremes of slothfulness and workaholism both have negative consequences, but there is usually a balance that can be found with some effort.

By the sweat of your brow  you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.   Genesis 3:19

Then there is the myth of retirement. I’ll just push into the grind that is my life and work and then when I win the lottery or retire, it will be so much easier. There are some people who use much of their free time after retirement to act leisurely, play golf, etc, but there are those who take up a new passion. Some friends of mine moved halfway around the world and started full time missions work after being retired for several years. This was not easy, but it has been quite a blessing to them. There are many who put much time and energy into grandchildren or other ministry activities which can still be a blessing to both.

Being lazy is easy but has consequences. Ignoring responsibilities and obligations eventually leaves you with fewer choices for work and other things than doing what is necessary in a timely manner. It is easy to shirk your duties and sleep in till noon or sit and watch TV, play games, or mindlessly surf the internet for hours, but in the end does this benefit me or anyone else even a little? Not likely.  It is no wonder they call a comfy recliner the LazyBoy.

How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? Proverbs 6:9

A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. Proverbs 13:4

If we want to look to examples of what it is like to live a life of sacrifice and joy in service, not only do we have Christ as our living example, we can also simply read a biography of someone you may just have heard a little about, such as John Wesley, who lived a remarkable life. He often preached 2-3 sermons per day and rode hundreds of thousands of miles on horseback, which may seem extreme to some but pushed the limits of what is possible. The lives of missionaries today and through history can also be a testament of how giving your all is possible.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Though life is full of trials and temptations, there is much to be learned in the process. Though it may take us several attempts, God always provides us a way to overcome the challenges we face. Look to what others have done in both successes and failures and choose accordingly. Eventually we learn that life is not fair. We find out life is not easy. But we can still enjoy the life we have regardless of external circumstances. When we are guided by the hope and love found in a new life with Christ, the limits of what we can do are endless whether the road before us seems easy or not.

Strength and Courage in Christ,
Clark

The Anniversary

            Last week Susan and I celebrated our 11th anniversary. We wear that number proudly as many of our friends cannot say the same, with all of the advances in the last decade marriage seams to be a fad. When people ask how long I have been married, it is usually followed with “wow that is impressive these days.”

           Happy-Valentines-Red-Rose-Tracy-Hall My parents were divorced when I was young, and I always vowed that I would only marry once and forever. So far so good!

            This week I have been reading Song of Songs. It is in essence a love story written by Solomon around 900 B.C., a first meeting and ending where they become one. It’s purpose is to show that the love of a good woman is worth cultivating. I believe this to be true now more than ever.

            As Susan works on her recovery, I have become attentive to her needs and limits. As our anniversary neared, I knew a night of dinner and dancing would not suffice this year. It needed to be something local and quaint. Why not a dinner at home? Even better, a dinner cooked by me and heartfelt ambiance. I know it can seem a little over the top, but it was by far one of our best anniversary’s ever. It meant more to her then any restaurant could have. It was not the money or the food but taking the time to cultivate a relationship with her.

            There is a reason Proverbs 18:22 states The man who finds a wife finds a treasure. And he receives favor from the Lord. Your relationship with God can be affected by the way you treat your wife.

            Think about that for a second. How do you love and give yourself to God but not also your wife? She shares in God’s gift of new life.

Take a few minutes a day to listen to what she has to say. There is more written between the lines than you can see. This was not always apparent to me. When I first got married I was still young and selfish. I wanted things my way, from the way my clothes were put away to how to vacuum. I thought I knew the only way. I didn’t know how to compromise.

            Sometimes our pride gets in the way of our relationships with our wives just as it does in other aspects of our lives, and we need a reality check. We need to see the beauty that God has given us. They take care of us when we are sick. They know more about us than sometimes we do.

I have this passage from Song of Songs to leave you with. It is worth the read.

Place me like a seal over your heart,
    like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
    its jealousy as enduring as the grave.
Love flashes like fire,
    the brightest kind of flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
    nor can rivers drown it.
If a man tried to buy love
    with all his wealth,
    his offer would be utterly scorned.

- Song of Songs 8:6-7

 

United for Him,

Kyle

Strengthening Your Spiritual Muscles

Lifting weights was a necessary element of my life for 8 years. In high school I knew to be the top tier athlete I wanted to be, I needed to be in the weight room 4 times a week, every week of the year, in or out of an athletic season. Because of my weight training in high school I moved from 171 pounds in 9th grade, to 185 in 10th, 195 in 11th, and really got after it my senior year and reached 225 pounds. All of this was muscle growth due to dedicated strength training.

This carried into college as well when I played football for the Central College Dutchmen. For another 4 years, I lifted 4 times a week (except for in-season), but the most I ever weighed was 230 pounds. Although my weight didn’t change very much, my strength did. My max sets for hang clean, bench, and squat went up anywhere from 100-250 pounds.

Throughout those 8 years, it wasn’t always fun to go through the lifting and conditioning. 5am wake up calls, workouts that made you puke, the times you maxed out and could barely walk or sit–they sucked. But they also paid off.

It was all about dedication, challenging yourself, and constantly working at it so you could be the best athlete possible. You did it for yourself and for your team.

imagesI think we forget that our spiritual lives need the same type of strength training. Our spiritual muscles don’t grow or gain strength if we only lift the same “weight” that we always have or only “work out” once or twice a week. We need to set goals, push ourselves, and be dedicated to see the hard work pay off.

How do we do that with our spiritual lives? Here are a few ideas that you could do to challenge and grow your faith life.

Strengthen Bible Reading
Some people think commentaries are only for pastors or theologians, but a great way to increase the depth and knowledge of what you’re reading in the Bible is to purchase a commentary. Commentaries provide a plethora of information on context and connection throughout the Bible. It brings many facts and ideas to light that you would never think about. You can find thousands of them online at a place like Amazon.com.

Prayer Journal
Praying doesn’t have to be random or spontaneous. Try keeping a prayer journal that you can record specific needs or people that you want to pray for. You can keep adding to this list, highlight prayers that were answered, and look back months later to see who or what was on your heart. It’s a great way to be intentional with your prayers and keep growing the depth of them.

Action in Fellowship 
Bible studies are great, service trips are good, too–but a neat way to flex your spiritual muscles is by applying the things you’ve learned on your own time. A cool way to do this is by gathering with one or two other men and setting action goals that you want to carry out that week. It could be to tell someone about Jesus who doesn’t know him, pay for a meal to bless a random stranger, or give grace in a situation that is tempting you to hate. The goals could change weekly according to what you’re working on. The neat thing is doing it with the accountability of one or two other guys.

Mentor a Learner
As a teacher, it is amazing how well I learn my content by teaching it again and again. The same goes for our spiritual lives, when we have the opportunity to teach another what we already know (or don’t know very well), it causes us to study more, search more, and find a way to help someone else understand, too. Mentoring a younger man can be a huge way to grow your spiritual muscles. You have to give your time, your emotions, your prayer, and your knowledge to someone who is wanting to soak it up and can be a bit difficult to handle at times or a major blessing to you. 

These are only a few of many ways that we can grow our spiritual muscles. If you know of more or already do something different, leave it in the comments below so others can soak it in and use it, too! 

Be men of STRENGTH and courage this week!
Cory Nikkel

A Cake Not Turned

Psalm 78:9, “The warriors of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned their backs and fled on the day of battle.”

Ephraim was the largest of all the tribes of Israel. During the time of Gideon and in the book of Judges the tabernacle was located in the town of Shiloh. The people of Ephraim were direct descendants of Joseph and his Egyptian wife. The people were proud of their heritage, proud of their influence, and proud of their power. 

imagesYou can see in the tribe of Ephraim that they were an arrogant people, caught up in who they thought they were. They were a people who looked like a cake that was not turned. For us it would be like a biscuit that was cooked hard on the bottom but was soft and doughy on the top. They were overcooked on the bottom and raw on the top. They lived hot for the world but lived a cold life towards God. 

These people were marked by trouble, pride, and selfishness. They were ticked off at Gideon and his great accomplishments that God was using him in battle. They burned inside with resentment towards him and his mighty 300. They actually chided Gideon and his actions for not asking them into the fight.

I like Gideon’s response, a man of character in a heated moment. He chooses his words wisely, stays strong in the moment, yet doesn’t get into an argument with these men. He knows the enemy isn’t Ephraim, it’s the Midianite army and they had just come against 135,000 men and had 15,000 left and they were on the run. He wasn’t going to waste time on politics; he had kings to catch.

Gideon goes on in the fight as you read Judges 8:1-21 and catches up with the army and the two kings. He knocks out an army and kills the two kings. A mere farmer at one time when God found him and now he is driven with passion, instilled with courageous ambition instilled by God, and was a force to be reckoned with.

The disappointing part of this portion of scripture is how the tribe of Ephraim chose to be arrogant and chided Gideon and missed the purpose of God’s sovereignty for the people of Israel. They chose to be hot in their own pride instead of being hot for God. From the outside they looked religious, but on the inside they were cold and doughy. 

Men, we can learn a lesson in our own lives of how pride and selfishness will take our eyes off Christ. We are called to a battle like Gideon. Fighting an enemy that is not of this world and does not have flesh and blood like the Midianites. We are Vital Men, and our lives have purpose. We have a destiny like Gideon. This is our time to fight and advance the Kingdom of God.

Gideon stepped into living a Vital Life for God. How about you today? What is your battle? Will you trust Jesus in the fear you face? I believe we can, and we can do it together in the strength and courage he has given us for such a day as this. Trust Jesus, men, and stay the course. Our wives, our families, and our communities are trusting us with this hour.

Strength and Courage,

Mike

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