Summary: Why waste time with negative pepole who are never going to make much progress? Because we follow a shepherd who will leave the ninety-nine grazing to pursue one lost sheep....

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One of the things I hear a lot in the business world is that if you want to be successful, you need to hang around successful people.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of the concept of the ‘Mastermind Group’, but I’ve been encouraged repeatedly, over recent years, to join one.

The concept of the ‘Mastermind Group’ is a simple one. They are a group of motivated, successful, go-getter sort of people. And if you want to get somewhere in business, it is considered to be a fundamental strategy that you surround yourself with these sorts of successful go-getter kind of people.

The idea is that you meet with this group at least once per week - pool ideas, share stories, and spur each other on. And it makes a lot of sense, that if you really want to be a winner, that you should immerse yourself in a social environment where the dominant mindset is progressive, challenging, and intellectually stimulating.

The other side of this of course is that if you really want to be a winner, you need to drop the losers out of your life.

Negative, unmotivated, go-nowhere type of people are only going to pull us down - so the philosophy goes. If we surround ourselves with people who are failing in the business of life, we can expect that our mindset will be determined by them, and that in the end we will become one of them.

Of course, this probably sound harsh, and as Christian people, we probably feel that a somewhat more tolerant and inclusive approach to life is required. Even so, I suspect that those of us who are parents take exactly this approach to our children.

Those of us who are parents want nothing more than to see our children hanging around with the right kind of people. When they become teenagers in particular, which parent amongst us does not yearn to see our children hanging with peers that are motivated, accomplished, and committed to their studies?

We know that if our children are part of a peer group where the other children are successful, accomplished, highly motivated and studious, that our children are very likely to turn out to be successful, accomplished, highly motivated and studious! Conversely, we know full well that if our children hang out with kids who use drugs, get involved in criminal activity, hit the unemployment line from an early age, and generally prove themselves to be carbuncles on the backside of humanity, that our children are also likely to turn out as ... carbuncles.

If you want to move forward in life, hang around with people who are going places. If you want to go nowhere, just hang around with a group of people who are going nowhere, and you’ll get nowhere fast! It makes good sense. Why is it then that the Lord Jesus modelled for us a lifestyle where He spent an inordinate amount of time with the very sort of people we want our children to avoid, and why did he urge us to model our communal life along exactly those lines?

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about the one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in Heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Matthew 18 is the passage - the story of the lost sheep, though we’re probably much more familiar with the version of this story that turns up in the Gospel of Luke.

In Luke’s version, the story comes as a response to criticism Jesus is receiving for hanging around with tax-collectors and other undesirables, and he’s trying to explain why he bothers. Here in Matthew’s retelling of the story, the discussion is about relationships within the church.

The application of the story is different, but principle is the same - we are encouraged to focus our time and our energy on the least prominent and least successful members of the community. In Matthew 18, Jesus calls them the ‘little ones’.

At the beginning of Chapter 18, Jesus told us that we all need to become like little ones, and he brings forward a child as His model.

On another occasion we might argue over exactly what He meant by this. Did He mean:

* That we need to be more trusting?

* The we should have a simpler faith?

* That we should cry more?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter, for as the dialogue progresses, it becomes clear that the distinguishing mark of the little ones is that they are vulnerable.

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