Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Youth Group

I just hired a new Director of Family Ministry. His name is Alex, and he has been on staff for about a month. On Sunday, after church, he held a meeting with youth and parents regarding Youth Ministry such as Youth Group (which is going to be called “Southside.” I think that’s really cool.), as well as Sunday School. I sat in on the meeting and was really encouraged about the future of family ministry here at South Church. I look forward to seeing what God is going to do through Alex’s leadership.

One of the things that struck me, as I listened and observed, was the amazing opportunity these young people have that many of their peers do not. In my teen years, I was not a part of a faith community and did not attend a Youth Group or Sunday School. However, when I became a Youth Pastor in the late ‘90’s, I witnessed firsthand the incredible things that can happen when young people, excited about Jesus, get together, grow together, and serve together. I saw remarkable things happen at summer camp and youth retreats. Kids came to faith in Christ and began to see each other differently. Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” In my youth group and every summer at Camp Winniaugwamauk, I saw young people learn to love and accept one another. There were no “cliques.” No cool kids versus geeks. Lifelong, meaningful, relationships are often formed in church youth groups. It is also fertile soil for the next generation of church leaders.

Look, I know. Teens will sometimes be teens. It is biological. Hormones and all. Sometimes they believe they have all the answers and have nothing else to learn. Especially, from you. I get it, but let’s not forget. We were teens too and, to be honest, not any different. Nonetheless, we all have an opportunity to be a mentor to young people. An example. To make allowance for their faults, and be forgiving, understanding, and encouraging. Yes, on occasion, you may be speaking with someone who has blue hair or a variety of piercings, but we too are called to be tenderhearted, merciful, kind, and patient. Remember what God said to Samuel when he was searching for the next king of Israel. “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

If you have teens, encourage them to participate in youth group. They will be blessed. If your children are grown, encourage your grandchildren and always be encouraging to the young people in your church. Let them know, you are so glad they are there; that you care and support your church’s Youth Pastor and family ministry. Remind them, as Paul said to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Think about it. Young people could be anywhere else on Sunday mornings. Specifically, still sleeping, but they are in church. They could be off with friends on Friday nights, but instead they are at Youth Group. That’s something to be thankful for right there, isn’t it?  

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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, September 8, 2021

The Instant

On the way to church this past Sunday, Renée and I encountered yellow police tape stretched across Maple Avenue. Rarely is police tape a good sign. We prayed for whatever situation was happening and took a detour. Sadly, we later discovered that someone riding one of those Lime electric scooters now available throughout the city was hit by a car and killed. This past Thursday, a veteran Connecticut state trooper Sgt. Brian Mohl, who had 26 years of service in the department, was working a midnight shift in Woodbury was killed when his cruiser was swept away amid heavy flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

A man riding a scooter. A husband and father of three gone in an instant. Events like this remind us of the fragility of life, as we were on September 11, 2001. It is hard to believe, but we are coming upon twenty years this Saturday. I will never forget sitting, in my office in Maine, just stunned, staring at the television as that event unfolded before my eyes. Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven innocent people died that morning – in an instant.

Yes, it changed our lives. We still have to take off our shoes at the airport. We cannot park close to certain buildings. There are watchlists and air marshals. All of that is true. However, what hit me this week was more the reality of “the instant.” The idea that one moment everything appears okay, and the next, it can change forever. None of us know how long we have. Twenty years? Sixty? Ninety? Everything could change in an instant. An illness, accident, natural disaster, terrorist attack. The Bible says, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone” (James 4:14). Remember the childhood nighttime prayer? “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.” Most of us use the updated modern version instead, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Guide me safely through the night and wake me with the morning light. Amen.” It’s a little softer, lighter, right? However, tomorrow morning is not guaranteed. 

Now, I mention this not to instill any fear. The Bible is clear, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). I do not want you walking around today, or any other day, expecting Wile E. Coyote’s ACME anvil to drop out of the sky and onto your head. No, I mention this for the opposite reason. Not knowing, should motivate us to treasure every moment. Bill Keane, illustrator of the Family Circus cartoon, once said, “Yesterday’s the past. Tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” I do not know what tomorrow brings. None of us do. I do know the Bible also says, “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:23). 

I know that every single day we have another opportunity to live, laugh, and love. Don’t take them for granted. I encourage you to treasure each and every day. Cherish time with family, friends, co-workers, and brothers and sisters-in-Christ. Tell those you love that you love them. “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). Make up with your husband or wife. Life is a blessing. So be blessed and be a blessing to someone else today.     

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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, September 1, 2021

How Will You Plead?

Well, I was called for jury duty this week. In the end, they texted me on Monday evening to tell me that I was not needed, but I was ready to serve. I think all citizens should serve. In the United States, one is considered innocent until proven guilty, and our constitution guarantees us all the right to a fair trial before a jury of our peers. Not every nation makes that promise. We are truly blessed.

When you think about it, the task of a juror is pretty significant. To judge someone’s guilt or innocence, and impose a monetary penalty, or send someone to prison is a serious responsibility.

At first, I thought to myself, wow, I am having a hard enough time contemplating what it would be like to judge a single person’s actions, God has to judge each and every one of us. Then, I remembered. Actually, I think God has it a little easier. Why? He does not have to decide our guilt or innocence. We are all guilty. Romans 3:10, “No one is righteous – not even one.” Psalm 51:5, “For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” Romans 3:23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” When we stand before the Lord on Judgment Day, we will not be able to plead innocent. 2 Corinthians 5:10 reminds us, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” Now, some people mistakenly believe if we do more good than bad, we will be okay. On the scales of justice our good deeds will outweigh our evil. Unfortunately, I am afraid that is not true, because the Bible says in James 2:10, “…the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” That’s right. As Jesus told us in Matthew 5:48, “…you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” What? Perfection? Are you perfect? I know I am not. That means when we stand before God, we will all be found guilty. Yup. Sorry. I will as well. So, what hope is there for us?      

The hope is in the sentencing phase. For those who are born again, we can be assured that our punishment has already been carried out through what Jesus did on the cross. We may have been the ones who sinned, but Jesus took the consequences of our sins – willingly. “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily,” Jesus said in John 10:18. Those who believe have no reason to fear their day in court. We know how it will turn out. Jesus is clear, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father,” Jesus says, “inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). However, for those who do not believe, Jesus is pretty clear as well. “Get away from me,” He says in Matthew 7:23, “you who break God’s laws” “…[you] will go away into eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

If you are ever called to serve on a jury, I encourage you to do your duty. There would be no better, fairer, or more compassionate, juror than one who follows Jesus Christ. Also, try to picture yourself as the defendant one day standing in the heavenly court before the Lord and having to plead your case knowing you are guilty. Then, remember what Jesus did for you on the cross and how your case will be dismissed because He has already taken your punishment, and rejoice. Be thankful and rejoice. Live the rest of your days here on earth in thankful appreciation for what Christ did for 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.