Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Do Not Be Afraid

In 1534, Henry VIII passed “The Act of Supremacy,” which declared that the king was “the only Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England (or Anglican Church).” At the same time, he passed “The Treasons Act,” which made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging the king as such. Many protestant reformers celebrated the resulting break with the Catholic Church; however, it soon became clear that submission to the pope and the Roman Catholic Church was simply being replaced with required obedience to the king and his newly formed Church of England. This did not sit well with a number of pastors and parishioners who believed Jesus Christ was the only head of the church on earth or anywhere else. These believers became known as “dissenters” or “non-conformists.” They were regularly mistreated, imprisoned, and on occasion even executed for the crime of refusing to worship in the Anglican way. 

Finally, during the reign of King James I, when several members of a congregation in Scrooby were imprisoned, they had had enough, and fled to Holland in order to freely practice their faith. They stayed in Holland for twelve years but got tired of the menial jobs they were restricted to and the influence Dutch culture was having on their children. They weren’t even using English as their first language any more. The truth was, they were Englishmen, and longed to live on English soil. Since they could not return to England, they decided to make a pilgrimage (from where we get the name “The Pilgrims”) to the new world.

They searched for a ship to carry them and settled on a commercial vessel that had transported wine from France, Spain, and Portugal, as well as hats, hemp, Spanish salt, hops, and even a load of vinegar to Norway. In September 1620, 102 people set sail on this ship – The Mayflower. It was an arduous 66-day journey across a stormy Atlantic. They landed in Cape Cod on November 21. Four hundred years ago. Half of the company died during the first winter, and without the help of the native Wampanoag tribe, everyone may have perished.

These “Pilgrims” were the first Congregationalists to reach what would one day become the United States of America. As modern-day Congregationalists (religious descendants of these brave sojourners), we are thankful for their faith and courage. These brothers and sisters-in-Christ were willing to stand strong against a church, a pope, a king, an ocean, and a wilderness here in the new world in order to freely worship the Lord. In the midst of trial and tribulation, it is difficult to stay strong, but remember, as the Pilgrims did, what God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

So, as you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, remember to give thanks to the Lord for the faith of the Pilgrims, and, remember God’s promise even during times of struggle – like during a pandemic – He will never fail you or abandon you.

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

 

 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Worse than Covid?

As this quarantine rolls on through 2020, we find ourselves facing a spike in cases. Everybody is wearing a mask, washing their hands, using hand sanitizer, and keeping six feet away from each other. We have also shut down some businesses, curtailed hours and occupancy rates for others, and some are even suggesting we cancel Christmas. I think we need to be smart. At South Church we follow all of the recommended protocols and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

At the same time, it is interesting to note that, according to the CDC information as of November 17, the survival rate of Covid-19 is 98%. That means for those who are not in a medical high-risk category, the chance of dying from the Coronavirus is exceedingly small. Now, that does not, in any way mean that we should take it lightly or let down our guard. I am not saying that at all. What I am simply observing is how people have completely overturned their lives (voluntarily) and made substantial changes to their daily routines so that they will not catch something, which they have a 98% chance of surviving.

Ironically, while fear of the Coronavirus is at an all-time high, all those people, who spend significant amounts of time worried about catching the virus, spend little or no time concerned about what would happen next if they did happen to die from Covid-19. Look, the death rate is actually 100% for all of us. Meaning, we are all doing to die – someday from something. Are you ready for what comes next? Are you absolutely certain you are going to heaven? Have you confessed your sin to God, asked for His forgiveness, repented, and proclaimed Jesus as your Lord and Savior? What about those you love? 

Jesus says in John 14, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Without Christ, there is no salvation. Jesus told the crowds in Luke 12, “Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those [including viruses] who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that” (Luke 12:4). The “after that” is far more important. Your heart will be broken if someone you love succumbs to Covid-19, but what is worse is knowing that you might never see them again if they don’t know Jesus. In the United States, 253,305 people have died from the Coronavirus, and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost someone they love. How much sadder it is to think how many of them were lost forever.

If we want to see husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children, families and friends to celebrate together in the Kingdom of Heaven, then we need to tell them about salvation that is found only in Christ Jesus. Yes, Covid-19 is horrible and we should do all we can to guard ourselves from it, but an eternity without your loved ones is worse. Therefore, wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Tell those you love about salvation in Jesus.            

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Thank You for Your Service

Have you ever seen a photo of your parents or even grandparents that shows them as teenagers or young adults in their twenties? I have. When we look at photos of our own childhood, we tend to focus on ourselves. What we looked like years ago. That’s understandable. It is crazy, however, in those same pictures, to look at my dad or my mom and realize they were in their late 20’s and early 30’s. I just always seem to think of my parents as “older adults,” but they were once young men and women too.

Similarly, for years, when I stood on the side of the road and cheered as the annual Veteran’s Day parade passed by, I saw old men. The blue garrison caps of the VFW sitting atop bald heads or white hair. The buttons on their white short-sleeved shirts barely holding back the bellies they covered. I saw the patches on their shirts, coats, and hats that revealed the war they served in and the unit they were a part of during their service. They were always “old” to me. I have always been a patriotic person. Someone who loves this country and, in spite of all its missteps, still believes it is the greatest nation humankind has ever produced.

However, in 1998, I went to see the film Saving Private Ryan. I strongly suggest you watch it. It was life changing for me. I’ll tell you why. The first twenty-plus minutes recreate the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. It is so realistic. It is jarring. For someone who has never seen combat, I was shocked at the reality of it. Sure, I have seen my share of war movies, but this was different. It was so real. It was as if the cameraman was actually there recording the events live.

The horror of war was what first jumped off the screen at me. What followed was a stunning realization that these “men” storming the beach were so young. Did you know the average age of a World War II soldier was twenty-six. Do you know a 26-year old? Perhaps you have a son or nephew who is twenty-six. In Vietnam, it was different. The average age of a soldier in the Vietnam War was nineteen! Nineteen! Look at the nineteen year olds in your life. Can you picture them crawling through the jungles of North Vietnam? I don’t know why, but for some reason, Saving Private Ryan hit me between the eyes. Those men marching down Main Street were once 20 years old, and what we, as a country, asked them to do is beyond description. But they did it. For me. For you. For the idea that is America. So that we could remain free to speak, to worship, to elect our own leaders, to pursue our American dream. It brought me to tears. Much like the realistic depictions of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus in the movie The Passion of the Christ, my eyes were suddenly fully opened to service of young men and women who willingly choose to defend me, you, all Americans. Regardless of race or religion, politics, or economic status. No, not all of them stormed beaches or trudged through rice paddies. Most of them did not see combat at all. However, every single one of them would have long before I would have. I cannot tell you how much that means to me. That someone was willing to possibly die so that I could live – free.

Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Nearly, 20 million men and women have served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. Each one of them would have laid down their life, if need be, to defend this nation and the cause of freedom around the world. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.

On Memorial Day, we honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. On Armed Forces Day (celebrated on the third Saturday in May), we honor those currently serving in the U.S. military. Today, November 11, is the day we have set aside to formally recognize those who have served. Why today? The major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. Originally called Armistice Day, at the urging of major U.S. veteran organizations, it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

We should honor those who have served and are serving every day, but I pray that today, if you see someone with a baseball cap or jacket covered in patches, you would thank them for their service. They deserve it. On Monday, I personally thanked two veterans and they appreciated it. Words cannot express the depth of my appreciation to all of those who have served, but it is the least I can do. Thank you for your service.          

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Fruits of Labor

Do you have a garden? Have you ever planted flowers, herbs, vegetables? Maybe some tomatoes or cucumbers. Why? When you really think about it. By the time you add up the cost of the seed, water, fertilizer, fencing to keep the critters out, not to mention your time, it is more than likely more expensive than buying vegetables at the supermarket. That’s not why you do it, though, is it? There are few things more satisfying than seeing the fruit of your labor. You grew that, and you can eat it. A salad never tasted so good than when it was made with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, carrots, and celery that you grew yourself! That is what makes gardening so fulfilling.  

Around AD 50, seventeen years after Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostle Paul arrives in Athens. Paul had left Silas and Timothy in Berea (a city in northern Greece) with instructions to join him as soon as possible. When Timothy returns to Athens, Paul then sends him fifty miles east to the city of Thessalonica in order to encourage the church that was being persecuted for its newfound faith. 

Timothy comes back with a mostly good report about the Thessalonian church, prompting Paul to send a letter to them. In 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul writes, “…we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

Paul was encouraged, happy, that what he had shared with believers had taken root. It is always gratifying to hear that someone has listened to your advice and counsel, isn’t it? Anyone with children will know we are not always listened to. Of course, we need to remember, we cannot expect a harvest if we do no planting. Paul also wrote, “Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Share the gospel story with your children. Tell them who Jesus is and what He did for them. Share God’s Word, His standards, His truth with them. You plant the seeds. The Holy Spirit will feed and water them, and you will get to see the fruit. 

Hey, if we are honest, we will admit, when we were younger, we did not always follow our parent’s advice and counsel either, did we? For whatever reason, when we are young, we think we have all the answers. The truth is, for some, when they get older, not much changes. The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Nonetheless, it seems regardless of what God has to say in His Word, too often people believe they know what is good or bad, moral or immoral, right or wrong.

Don’t you love it when you discover that your son or daughter listened to you? Yeah, maybe you had to hear it through the grapevine. Surely, they would never admit to your face you were right. Come on, did you? It’s okay. I’ll bet, however you heard it, when you did, like Paul, you smiled. Feels good, doesn’t it? Well, our Father in heaven enjoys when His children listen too.

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.