Today I attended the livestreamed funeral service for a 17-year old activist in our church. This week a freak car accident took the lives of three high school students in our community. It’s easy to jump to conclusions – and many did – about young people, carelessness, alcohol, drugs, dangerous behavior, goofing off, and what have you.

But that was not what happened. Stereotypes about teenagers are just as harmful as stereotypes about any other group subjected to unjust bias. These three young men, all under 18, all already leaders in their school, their sports, their church, their peer groups, and their community, were highly competitive athletes returning home from a soccer game.

They were sober, awake, alert, focused, wearing seatbelts, driving carefully, and stopped at a stoplight next to a cornfield waiting for the light to turn green. Their car was rear-ended by a vehicle that didn’t stop. It flipped end over end over several times before landing in the cornfield and bursting into flames. All three young men perished in the fire.

Today our church held a funeral service for one of the boys who’s been active in our church for years. His parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, Godparents, and many other relatives are regular volunteers with many of our church’s service projects, and the growing boy had participated enthusiastically as well – planting gardens, fixing homes, distributing food, gathering clothing donations. Two of his family members are in my small Bible study group. The funeral service was led by our church’s youth pastor, who’s known the deceased young man since he was an awkward 7-year old.

What does God want us to learn from tragedies like this?

Well, one lesson I took away from the funeral today was: If you are ready to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and you haven’t done it yet – Do It Now. Don’t wait. One thing that was painfully clear throughout the service was that despite the uncannily Christ-like life this awesome young man had been living for many years, nobody mentioned him ever having professed his personal commitment to Christ. He lived a more Christ-like life than most of us can ever aspire to here on Earth … but did he accept Christ’s personal offer of salvation? Only God knows.

I believe that not a one of us knows what was in the hearts of these young men in their last moments of life on Earth – and that’s the only thing that matters. But if you haven’t outwardly confessed your sins and professed your faith in salvation by the grace of God through His son Jesus Christ … and you are ready – or almost ready … work your way through those questions and hesitations and do it now. You never know when God is going to call your number.

In my own faith journey the Covid pandemic came as a blessing. It forced on me the time and space to reflect and pray and actually take the final steps on my own road to Jesus … steps that I probably could have taken years earlier but just “never had the chance.” So if you are waiting for “maybe, someday – when I get a chance to really think about it,” make that day come sooner rather than later. Don’t wait for the next pandemic. That apparently infinite “later” stretching before you may be a lot shorter than you think.

And if you are a Christian – called upon by Jesus to evangelize, as we all are – not just “vocational” pastors and missionaries, but all Christians … don’t hesitate to actually lead others to Christ. I know only God can save, and we are often advised that we can only spread the Good News, but don’t hit people over the head with a Bible to try to bully them toward salvation.

But there are thousands of ways of leading with love, without being obnoxious or confrontational. Take a class, learn from a mentor, study how those you admire exhibit leadership of others … but learn and take action. Just saying, “Well, I did my part – I talked about Jesus last week,” isn’t always enough. Sometimes it may be, but sometimes God calls us to do more. We need to make sure we’re listening when He does, and having heard we take action.

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