Blessings for the FaithfulThe following two segments are separate yet related. One is a story of God's blessings for the faithful. The second is an exercise to encourage youth to examine themselves and how their faith has actively guided them.
Arthlyn Ferguson memory
A short time ago my mother, who had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for many years, fell and broke her hip. She was in significant pain so surgery had to be done. Though she survived what was deemed to be successful hip surgery, she was never the same thereafter. Her eighty-four year old body was worn down.
It soon became obvious that she has a week or two to live. We placed her in a wonderful hospice facility and I brought a CD of old time hymns that many years before she had played while accompanying on piano the congregation of a fledgling church. The CD brought peace to my mom and all of us as we visited her during the last days of her life. The staff at the hospice agreed to play the tape for her after tending to her needs.
The day she passed away my wife and I were on the way to see when we received the call that she has passed away. Advising that I wished to see her one last time (she was donating her body to science for research so there would be no viewing), the staff agreed to leave her untouched, as she was at death, until we arrived.
A short time later my wife and I entered her room of the past five days and mom looked comfortable and at peace. I asked if the staff had put the music on that day and they said they had done so twice but were not sure that it was on when she died as the actual time of death was uncertain. The nurse asked if we would like to hear the hymns during these last minutes with mom. I said, "Certainly" and the nurse went to turn the CD player on. The player started and was clearly spinning but no sound could be heard. The nurse was surprised. She had successfully taken the same action several times that week including twice that very day. I looked at the device and saw it spinning and recording that it was now on track three. Still no sound even when the volume was turned up.
My wife then spoke, "It's not playing because she is no longer here to hear it." Of course, why didn't we consider this? Mom now had a heavenly choir to sing to her.
I then spent about a half hour with mom, spoke to the staff for a while and left. On the way home we took the disk, which had been soundless in mom's room a short time before, and placed it in our car stereo system. Instantly it played beautifully, loud and clear. But, I am sure, not as beautifully as the heavenly choir mom was hearing.
Mom has passed to the heavenly choir but she leaves behind more than memories. Throughout this web site is my mother's art work, pencil drawings of "faith" and "trust", seen below on this page as well as drawings of the words "Fun" and "hope" elsewhere. Thank you, Arthlyn Ferguson (1923 - 2007).
Faith Stories of Youth
I am sharing the above story at this time because it is important to find ways to share real life stories with our young people. A week after mom's passing we held the following meeting which could be termed faith stories, but in a different sense than people would anticipate. We had our young people share every day stories of their lives which were used to demonstrate the essence of spiritual growth through faith.
There are five segments to this lesson:
• Bring two Bibles in. One should be old, worn and well used. We used my mom's Bible she had received some seventy or so years earlier, copyright 1919. The second Bible should be new, perhaps with commentary, indexes and the like. I used The New Interpreters Study Bible which provides much reference material for my work.
Now - ask the young people - which of these Bibles has the greatest value. The one that is falling apart, with much of it underlined and a listing of favorite verses on its cover or the Bible that is barely worn with wonderful reference material and maps. Our youth came up with differing opinions and it took about five minutes of discussion before someone said - the Bible that's been most used is the most valuable. We then pointed out that there is nothing that will hasten youth along their faith journey than putting their Bibles into use by reading them regularly. And underlining them and leaving notes in the margin does not take away value from their Bible: it adds to its value.
• Ask the young people to share a story of the earliest event in their life they can remember. As they share their memories, look for memories of joy, of loving acts by family members, and of expressed faith. One young lady spoke of remembering finding an filled Easter basket and the joy of the event. Others described moments of parents stepping forward to relieve a fearful situation.
After all young people share their stories, read Luke 18:17. Point out that we must have faith in God similar to the faith a young child has in his/her caretakers. Challenge the young people to think about their early experiences of trust in those caring for them. This will give them insight in what trust in God consists of.
• Ask the young people to share a time that they had a stranger or someone unexpectedly appear at their door. What was their family's and their own reaction? Were they welcoming or were they cold and not accepting. We heard a variety of stories from that of salesmen and proselytizers appearing to old forgotten family friends arriving. As the leader make sure you can think of an occasion that you warmly received the unexpected guest and a time you were more rejecting.
After hearing the stories discuss the dynamics behind the stories of acceptance of the guest and the times the guest was rejected. Why were the responses different? Point out that we, due to circumstances, are unlikely to treat everyone the same. Certainly the long forgotten friend, after the moment of surprise wears off, is likely to be warmly received while the salesman peddling exactly what the family does not need is not.
Now read Revelation 3:20, "I stand at the door and knock". Ask the young people how they respond to Jesus at their doorstep. Do they treat him like the long lost friend or the unwanted salesman. Take some time to discuss the persistence in which God pursues us to respond positively to himself and the word of God. Challenge the youth to open the door of their hearts and to let him come in.
• Ask the young people to describe a moment when they or a member of their family did a good deed for another person with nothing to be gained for doing so. Take time to discuss why the deed was done and what was the effect on the recipient. Would the young person repeat the same actions if the opportunity came again? Since our youth group is involved in a number of local mission activities, this provided a good source of good deeds done.
Now display a list of the fruits of the spirit: faithfulness, goodness, humility, joy, kindness, love, patience, peace and self-control. Take time to discuss which of these were present during the youth's good deed. If time allows, ask the youth which of these fruits of the spirit are hardest to attain. Our young people cited patience and self control as the most difficult. Reinforce the fact that when we openly let the Spirit of God into our hearts, we find these fruits of the spirit growing within us.
Take a moment to expand on one of these fruits: love. Our youth described this as the most important and basic of all the fruits. Point out that the Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13 agrees when he states there are "faith, hope and love, these three but the greatest of these is love." Read the earlier verses in the chapter that describe love as patient and kind, not conceited, jealous or proud and happy with the truth. These definitions of love are very similar to the fruits of the spirit.
The wrap up for the evening will be different for each youth group involved. Take time to reinforce the part of the discussion that you had the most participation from the youth. Our group spent a lot of time discussing reactions to the stranger at the door. Therefore, our wrap up stressed the Revelation 3:20 verse - how are we receiving Christ... with open arms as some of our youth reached out to the unanticipated visitor or do we respond coldly like we often do to the individual selling things or those looking for charitable donations.
Often after a detailed discussion such as the one above, I will review it at a later date and what sometimes happens is that when the essence of the program is reviewed youth will respond differently than the first time the program's events were done. You may find the young people focusing on completely different parts of the program. This is actually good - it gives we youth leaders an opportunity to expand the faith of our youth.
Try this program and write to me at TimFerguson@Christianyouthgroup.org and let me know how it went. May God continue to bless all efforts being made on behalf of Christian Youth.