3/7/18 – Pastor Brian’s Blog –
I was a junior in high school and my dad wanted to take me on a short-term mission’s trip. If you knew me in high school, you would know that going on a mission’s trip was not on my list of favorite things to do, even though it would get me out of school for 10 days.
When I realized that I could not get out of going, I thought I could convince my dad that my best friend, Ron, needed to go too, because he needed something like this even more than I did! I think I might have had my dad convinced until… my mom got involved and then I knew nothing I could say could ever get Ron on this trip with me.
So, we left Maine and headed to New York City to spend time working at Teen Challenge. Now you need to understand, being from Maine, a large crowd for me was when fans would show up to watch my basketball team play. And the only nonwhite people I knew (and I did not really know them) were Celtics and Red Sox players.
So, you can imagine how I felt when I arrived in NYC, where there were more people on a city block than lived in my whole town or maybe my whole state!! And as far as people of different races, I think there were representatives from every country in the world!!
My dad told me that we were going down to help with a renovation project, but while I was there, I thought I was going to die! The “missionaries” that showed up to work that week thought it would be a great idea to go into the city one night on our own. If my memory serves me correctly: we were all white, none of us had ever been to NYC before, and no one knew anything about the different subway lines.
Anyway, the only thing I can remember about that evening is that on the way back, we got off the train too early and had to walk back to Teen Challenge. If you know anything about Teen Challenge, it was not located in a section of town where the tour buses go! As we were walking back, a group of people that I am pretty sure were not from Maine, began to follow us. The faster we walked it seemed the closer they got. I thought we were going to die!! Obviously, we didn’t because I am writing this blog today!
When I arrived back to my high school, they asked me to share about my trip during one of the school assemblies. I had never spoken to a large group of people before and I don’t remember one thing I said. The only thing I can remember is walking back to my seat realizing that I was so nervous that I sweat a lot. If that was not bad enough, to take care of the swear, during what seemed like an eternal speech, I kept wiping my armpits!!
I was thinking about this part of my life yesterday because we had a group of men in our morning service representing Teen Challenge. I found out that Teen Challenge has over 1,100 centers in 80+ countries. I would like to think that my 10 days at their center in NYC was very instrumental in their success story!
We were blessed yesterday to have these men with us. To hear where they were when God saved them and how God is transforming their lives, is just amazing. Not only is God transforming their lives, He has given them a hope, dreams, and a passion to walk with Him and a desire to fulfill God’s plan for their life.
As I was thinking about their stories, there is no reason to believe that this could not have been my story. Apart from the grace of God, this was me: a young man that lived for my hopes, my dreams, my desires and was headed on a road of self-destruction. And if you think, ‘This could not have been you,’ then you have forgotten who you are apart from Christ… All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6
Isaiah says, the best that we have, our “righteous acts” are like menstrual rags. Outside the city of Jerusalem, they would have a burn pile of menstrual cloth “rags” used during a woman’s period. Isaiah is using this illustration as an example of how worthless our righteous acts are before God. We can take our best shot, we can muster up the best that we have, and in the end, it only offends God.
Do you know what can impress God? Jesus said… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48. The Apostle Peter writes… But just as He (God) who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 Is perfection attainable by human strength and effort?
We heard stories yesterday of men that were not perfect, men that did not live holy lives but men that were being transformed by the Grace of God, men that had personally met Jesus and were saved. Paul writes that for this very reason Christ came… Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1:15
So, if you are reading this blog and have lived a perfect life, if you are living a holy and sinless life, then God is impressed. But you are flawed like those men from Teen Challenge, like me and every other person that attended our church service yesterday. However, unlike these men from Teen Challenge, if you are still trusting in your own “righteous acts,” then I would beg you to accept God’s grace and become part of God’s family… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:4-9
Contemporary singer and song writer Matthew West was moved when he, as a pastor’s kid, heard the testimonies of men from Teen Challenge when they visited his church. Their testimonies broke the monotony of the preaching and teaching he heard week after week. He wrote this song about the life transformation he witnessed. If you know Christ as your Savior, your life has changed, and this song is for you as well…
Oh, by the way, I would strongly encourage you to take your children or grandchildren on a short-term mission’s trip. And if you want to go to Teen Challenge in NYC, let me know, I am experienced!!