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 (Manna 25: Walking Together)
Lost Sheep
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During this transition from childhood into adulthood, we begin to have the freedom to make the decisions that affect our own lives rather than having them made for us. For many of us, a whole wealth of opportunities is placed before us (such as the experience of studying away from home) and we find ourselves faced with many choices (we may ask ourselves just how important it is to study in an institution near a church). It is during this time also that our faith wavers the most. In many instances, the steps we choose to take in our teenage years will have great effect on the rest of our lives. Our choice of studies, for example, may determine the career we pursue. Taking the wrong step will have detrimental consequences on our spiritual lives. This period is critical in deciding whether one becomes yet another lost sheep.

Many see the years of youth as a time where they are entitled to guiltless hedonism. They do not feel that they have to be committed to things such as religion. There is also constant pressure to be accepted by peers and to be popular. If your lifestyle does not conform to that led by the majority of youths outside the church, you may feel like an outcast and suffer low self-esteem. To ease such self-doubt, some conform to the social norms of youth culture, drinking alcohol and exploring night clubs. Attending church and believing in God typically are seen as "uncool" by non-believing peers. Soon they become totally immersed in the ways of the world and inevitably become lost sheep.

There is another option open to us. It is not, however, an easy one. It requires effort and commitment. Because it is during our youth that our views are formed, we must use this time to develop self-control in dealing with temptations and to be willing to decline wayward offers. We should heed the words in Ecclesiastes 12:1:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, "I have no pleasure in them."
Furthermore, we should exercise caution in our leisure activities. These are often determined by the company we choose to keep. Although we must establish close friendships in the church, it would be too sweeping to say that we should not have friends outside church. However, as Christians, we ought to follow God's guidance when choosing our friends. It may not be evident at the time, but what we see as an abundant social life may leave us too engrossed to give even a second's thought to church anymore. If we are all able to interact more in church, (for example, organizing social events for youth fellowship) then there will be less need to look for outside distractions. While we still have the options, we must equip ourselves properly to deal with the temptations we face during our youth, so that we will never displace God as our highest priority and turn our attentions to the world.

If we are confident that we will never become a lost sheep, beware of being complacent. Instead, continually ask God to preserve your faith. In addition, have mutual concern and help prevent brothers or sisters from falling by the wayside. Quite often, we have the tendency to come to church just for services, barely speaking two sentences to each other. This may be taken as hostility even though it is totally unintended. Worse, you may not even have noticed the brethren who have left the church because they do not feel any love from the members. Do not feel inhibited in showing your love and concern if you feel that any brethren are in need. After all, one of the fundamental messages of Christianity is to love one another—wouldn't we be reducing ourselves to mere hypocrites if we cannot show this love to our own brethren?

If there are any brethren that we know of who seem to have turned their backs to God, do not give up on them. Even though a person's faith is very much a personal thing between God and himself, there is nothing to stop us from remembering him in our prayers or contacting him. Your persistence will eventually pay off and he will appreciate the fact that you have not forgotten him. It is through our love and prayers that the lost sheep can find their way back to the fold. We can all be the shepherds who obey Jesus' commandment, "Tend My sheep" (Jn 21:16).

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Publisher: True Jesus Church