Young Lions (by Len Winneroski)

lion

The African lion is a carnivorous mammal from the species Panthera leo. If you have ever been face to face with an adult male lion in a zoo or safari, you know what a powerful and majestic animal that they are. A full-grown male lion can grow to a height of over 6 feet tall and can weigh over 400 pounds! Lions are social animals and they live in groups called prides. A pride can be composed of up to three male lions and twelve female lions and their young. When the young male lions grow up, they leave the pride to start a pride of their own. (1)

So why am I talking about lions this morning? I’ll tell you, but first I have to tell you a story, a very personal story, about a man named Max.  God used Max to change my life. But Max didn’t just change my life. God has used Max to change the lives of many, many other people who have had the honor of calling him their friend.

When Ann and I moved to Indianapolis in 1989 we didn’t know a soul. That was fine for a while, as we were too busy learning how to be married. Over time, we began to figure things out and then we started to get a little lonely. We decided that it was time to find friends, friends our own age that we could hang out with and do things together with on the weekends. We made a few friends through our places of employment, which was good, but we eventually came to the realization that churches were probably an even better place to meet “good” people. After a brief period of church shopping, we happened to visit Christ United Methodist Church, located in Greenwood, Indiana. The only reason that we decided to try out this church was because we noticed that it had a cool steeple when we passed by it on the way to the Greenwood Park Mall.

So on an average Sunday morning, in the summer of 1990, we walked into Christ United Method Church. We were hoping to find a seat in the back of the church so that we could exit quickly if we didn’t like the vibe that we got there. What we didn’t know is that Max Eveland worked at that church. Max has a trained eye for the lost and lonely. The minute that he saw Ann and I sneaking into the back of the church he noticed us immediately and approached us. Max is a friendly and persuasive guy. Max introduced himself to us and then seated us next to some friendly regulars at that church. After the service, Max was back and he convinced us to follow him down the hallway to a Sunday school class full of young couples that welcomed us in like family. We had no idea at the time that the people in that room would become our dearest friends in life.

Max didn’t stop there. He insisted that we join him for dinner at the Waffle house latter that week. He even offered to pay for it so we went. Max is not the kind of guy who talks about sports or the weather. Max loves people too much to waste time on idle talk like that. Before I had even swallowed my first bite of food Max was telling us what the Bible said about Jesus and about how Christ had led him out of a life of running around in bars into a life of abundant hope and joy. I had never heard anyone be so open about his or her faith before, and to be honest, I was a little uncomfortable. Max finished telling us about his life and then he asked us about our walk with Jesus. Ann had an answer to give Max, but I knew that I was toast. I knew a few stories about about Jesus, because I grew up in the Catholic Church, and I was raised in a loving home, but I didn’t know Jesus in the very personal way that Max was describing.

We finished eating dinner with Max, and he thanked us for having the courage to meet with him and then he gave us a little tract called “The Four Spiritual Laws.” He challenged us to take it home and read it and he said that He would get back with us in a week or so to talk about it. I would normally have been very skeptical of tracts like these because I had seen similar ones left behind in public places like truck stops. I had always ignored them because I was not interested in joining any kind of “cult.” This time was different though. I wanted to read the tract because there was something different and authentic about Max and I wanted to have the hope and joy that he was talking about in my life too. If you want to know what I read in that little tract I’m sure that Max still has one and will give you one or you can read more about it in this manna.

We didn’t wait for our meeting with Max to read the tract. I read it on the way home while Ann drove. By the end of that evening, Ann and I were talking about things that we had never talked about before, and before we knew it, we were kneeling together at the edge of our bed. We asked God to forgive us for following our own way instead of His. We invited Jesus into our lives and marriage.

I wish that I could tell you that everything was perfect from that moment forward for the past 28 years, but that would be a lie. What I can tell you, however, is that inviting Jesus into our lives and marriage was the best decision that we have ever made. I honestly don’t know how we would have navigated the past 28 years of our lives without our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Max called us later that week to see if we wanted to get together for dinner again. I told him that we had read the tract he gave us and that we understood now what he was talking about. I told him that we were sick and tired of trying to navigate life on our own and that we had invited Christ into our hearts and marriage. Max listened and then prayed for us over the phone and invited us to attend his Tuesday Night Bible study to learn more about Jesus and the Bible. We took Max up on that offer, as did many other young people from our Couples in Christ Sunday School class.

Max’s Tuesday night Bible Study was composed of older and younger people with different education levels and backgrounds. This eclectic group of people chose to come together each week to study the Bible and learn from one another. Max opened the Word of God up to us and we soaked it up. We usually only made it through a few verses each week because he had lots of cross-references for us to look up related to each verse. He encouraged us to buy tabs to help us find the different books of the Bible because we were flipping around the Bible a lot in his Bible study! He told us that it was OK to write in our Bibles and highlight verses that “spoke” to us and we did. Max encouraged us to memorize key verses of the Bible and people shared how the Bible verses that we looked up each week had challenged or changed them over the years. We all listened and learned from one other and we grew tremendously in our faith during those years.

Max took a few of us aside and challenged us to put our faith and growing Biblical knowledge into action. With Max at the helm, we moved single moms, the elderly, and a few needy families that couldn’t afford to pay movers. We moved so many people that we started to call ourselves, “Max’s Movers.” We took fresh-backed pies to people’s homes on behalf of Christ United Methodist Church and then made ourselves available to answer any had questions that they had about our church. We joined Max for Lay Witness Mission trips where we visited other churches who’s flames had died down to share about what Jesus was doing in our lives because we were on fire for Christ! We didn’t know what the heck we were doing, but we wanted to tell the world about our love for Jesus and what He was doing in our lives. We still do!

Max recognized that a few of us had the desire to teach, and that we were not afraid to tell others about Jesus, so he invited us to “preach” at a Sunday evening service at Christ United Methodist Church. People actually came! I’d like to tell you it was because of the excellent preaching, but the truth is that they came to enjoy a free dinner that the church offered before the lay service. I smile as I think back to those “sermons” because they were not polished at all! They were raw and real, but they were from the heart. Max always sat right up front. He smiled and nodding his head with approval to encourage us as our knees knocked. He watched us with love and pride in his eyes. Max started calling us his young lions and he poured his love, time and knowledge into us. We were his “pride” and Jesus was our leader. Max told us not to lean too much on him because he would eventually fail us. He told us that we needed to learn how to lean on Christ because Christ would never fail us. For the record, Max has never failed any of his young lions.

Over the years some of the Max’s young lions went on to become missionaries, pastors and leaders in different churches. Other lions stayed in their jobs, but they did so with a different vision for why they were there. I don’t attend the same church as Max anymore, and we don’t meet as often as I would like, but we will always have a bond that will last into eternity. I am proud to have had the opportunity to be the lion runt in Max’s pride… to learn from him and to do life with him over those precious years. Since that time I’ve led or participated in many other prides. I am currently a co-leader for a group of freshman boys at New Hope Church. The other co-leader of our pride is the son of one of Max’s other original young lions! I pray for these young men every day and I try to do for them what Max did for us.

I didn’t go on to become a missionary or pastor like some of Max’s other young lions. I kept my job as a research scientist. I spend my days working with really smart people trying to discover new medicines to treat Alzheimer’s disease. I love Jesus and science and I hope that God can use this dummy to do something to help people’s physical and spiritual needs. One of the ways that I like to express my love for Jesus is through writing. I have been sharing my thoughts over the years as devotional writings. Anyone who is interested in reading them can find them on http://www.mannaandcoffee.com.

So what does writing devotionals have to do with lions and Max? Max is currently working with a mutual friend, Dick McCleish, to compile over 40 years worth of notes and thoughts from Max’s tattered Bible into an electronic format. Max has invited this not-so-young lion to join them and help them figure out how to share this information with the world. Max doesn’t write or blog, but he is still mentoring and teaching others about Jesus. He is excited about the idea of Dick and I helping him spread the Biblical wisdom that he has gained over the years with others in whatever way that God leads. Please pray for Max, Dick and I as we seek God’s will on how to use this valuable information.

One of the plans is to use some of these notes to write manna devotionals as God leads. If you have other ideas feel free to reach out to Max, Dick or I. Max is still on the lookout for new young lions and I’m sure that he would even buy you dinner or give you one of those tracts if you want to know more about this Jesus that we both serve.

So what about you? Do you know that Jesus loves you? Are you leading or learning in a “pride” at the moment? Jesus is looking for a few hungry young lions that have the courage to follow Him. Jesus also calls to the older lions that may have fallen into the habit of napping to get back to work being spiritual leaders in their families and congregations. Time is short brothers and sisters. People are lost and hurting and we all need to learn from a Max and be a Max to someone else. We may not all be priests, pastors or missionaries, but we are all called to spread the Good News that Jesus is alive to those who are dying. On behalf of all of your young lions, being the least of these, I thank you Max from the bottom of our hearts for loving us enough not to leave us where we were. Thank you for believing in us more than we believed in ourselves and for pushing us to become all that God has called us to be for His glory and honor. Amen.

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” – Matthew 28:16-20

(1) Information taken from: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/african-lion/

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