Jesus in the E.R.

Por Scott Armstrong

“On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners'” Matthew 9:12-13 NIV.

(Read Matthew 9:9-13)

I have to admit.  The Emergency Room is not my favorite place in the world.  There is need all around you.  Children coughing, tired parents, twisted ankles, even some serious emergencies that waver between life and death.

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What would happen if a completely healthy man walked into the E.R. and demanded to be treated? All the sick people in the waiting room are miserably biding their time until they can be seen.  The hospital rooms are full with injured people in the middle of operations and treatments and care.  And one guy decides he is more important than anybody and has to immediately be seen by a doctor.  No reason, really.  He just wants the attention.

Does it sound ridiculous? It should.  And yet, many Christians—maybe you and I—spend our time focusing on all the healthy people while failing to recognize we’re in the middle of the Emergency Room.

I love the simple passage we read today.  Matthew is writing about his own calling.  He doesn’t spend a long time describing the scene, but you can tell Matthew remembers it well.  He remembers the things said about him, his friends, his Lord.  That day was the day that transformed Matthew.  He went from sick to healthy in a span of hours.  And now his mission is to tell the world that the Doctor has come with a cure.  That’s why he’s writing this in the first place.

If we have come to Christ and have a relationship with him, we are—at least according to these verses—healthy.  Sure, we all need to grow.  Not one of us has outgrown our need for Jesus.  But part of our responsibility after being healed is to leave the hospital and bring more sick people to the Doctor!  The day Matthew met the Doctor he was bringing others to him.  Years later he wrote the words that we just read because he wanted all to know that Jesus spent his entire life—and awful death—saving sinners.

The question is: are you doing the same? Are you really convinced that people are going to hell without Christ? You have been given the cure.  What are you doing to spread that cure to those who are dying without it?

Are We There Yet?

By Scott Armstrong

“He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there (Genesis 12:5).”

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(Read Genesis 12:1-9)

What was the most incredible vacation you ever went on? Where did you go and what did you do? Did you go with family, friends, or both?

In Genesis 12 we read that the Lord calls Abram to go on a journey.  But it was far from a vacation.  Not even a majority of this trip was spent in green, lush land—and that makes a difference if you’re hauling cattle around.  This journey was long and hard, and most likely without many rewards.

But the verses we read simply state, “they set out…and they arrived” (v.5).  That’s like summing up one of my notorious family vacations by saying we set out from Kansas City and arrived in Toronto, Canada.  Just saying we set out and arrived doesn’t include the fights in the back seat between my brother and I, the threats of punishment from my parents, the awful memory of Detroit’s Grand Canyon-size potholes—you get the picture.  If you’re like me, you can imagine Abram thinking, “Maybe I got this wrong.  Did I really understand God? Why did he just say, ‘Pack up and move,’ without telling me where I’m going?”

But, like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going and going and going.  Time after time he stops and calls on the Lord.  Time after time he hears, “Keep going.”

There is an awesome lesson here.  Sometimes, like Abram, we have to keep taking steps even though we do not know where the Lord is taking us.  We all want to know what His big will is—those huge decisions that will affect our lives forever.  But sometimes He says, “You’re in my will.  Keep journeying on that road and the destination will become clear later.”  God’s will is not just the destination points on the highway, but the journey to and from those points.

Is there a large decision in your life that needs to be made in the next few days, weeks, or months? Have you worried about it? Maybe the Lord is showing you that you are right where you need to be and that He will provide the answer in His timing.  In the meantime, keep journeying.  Continue to draw closer to the One who will share His heart with you more and more with each passing day.  Rest assured that He has probably been doing that already.

In Unexpected Ways

By Scott Armstrong

 
“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy” (2 Kings 5:1 NIV).

(Read 2 Kings 5:1-19)

The commander of the army is at the end of his rope. Leprosy has eaten away at Naaman’s body and soul.  He desperately needs healing, so he goes to the prophet Elisha. The only problem is that Elisha does things a little differently. (Don’t believe me? Check out 2 Kings 4:32-35.)  Naaman expected Elisha to say, “Abra-cadabra” and cure his leprosy with a wave of his hand. But instead Elisha tells him to dip in the Jordan River seven times. The Jordan was a dirty river located in Israel.  Why couldn’t Naaman dunk himself in a cleaner river closer to home?

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Jennifer was a girl in one of the youth groups that we had several years ago.  She was an outstanding singer who had used her talent in the church’s praise team and in many school musicals.  One day, she found out she had nodes on her vocal chords.  The treatment required complete voice rest for 2-3 months.  Needless to say, Jennifer was frustrated.  One of the joys of her life was taken away from her!  Still, she decided that she would use this time to focus on what the Lord wanted to teach her through this experience.  She ended up using her normal rehearsal time at church to start a new prayer ministry for the youth group.  She had wanted to draw closer to God, but He certainly answered that prayer differently than she had expected!

God doesn’t always work the way we’re used to. He knows what’s best for us, even though it makes little sense to us at the time. Naaman eventually decided to try dipping in the Jordan, and his “incurable” disease was cured! What does God want to do in your life? Will you let him work in unexpected ways?

Good Teaching, Jesus!

By Scott Armstrong

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matthew 7:24, 26).

(Read Matthew 7:21-29)

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ famous teaching that spans from Matthew chapter 5 through chapter 7. In these three chapters we witness the greatest preacher who ever lived preaching the greatest sermon ever recorded. And how would you suppose Jesus would conclude this incredible message?

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He ends his amazing sermon by telling us about two builders. One had common sense and constructed his home on a strong, sturdy foundation. The other—well, he pretty stupidly built his house on the sand. When the storm came, only one house was standing. A pretty basic story.  Not too complicated.  Why does Jesus end the greatest sermon ever with this story?

In this simple parable, Jesus emphasizes obedience.  The wise man is like “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice.” The foolish man represents “everyone…who does not put them into practice.” Apparently it is possible for us to hear Jesus’ words without ever doing anything in response.  James says if we hear or read Jesus’ teachings and never change our lives afterwards, it’s as if we were to look at our face in the mirror, go away, and immediately forget what we look like (1:22-25).  I don’t know about you, but if I notice in the mirror that I have dirt on my face or a piece of food in my teeth, I’m going to fix the problem right away!

So why do we hear Jesus’ words and not obey? Why do we leave services where the Word of God has been preached and tell the pastor, “Good sermon, pastor,” as if it were a tasty dessert? Do we realize that these teachings can—and should—change our lives? Do we recognize that where we spend eternity depends on how we respond to God’s words (vv. 21-23)?

Read Matthew 7:28-29 again. At the end of the greatest sermon ever preached, Matthew leaves us hanging.  Were the huge crowds just amazed or did they put the teachings into practice?  We have no idea.  But now the question is for you.  Will you really listen to what he is saying to you today and this week? Will you put it into practice and obey?

Run to Him

By Scott Armstrong

“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me” (Psalm 31:1-2 NIVUK).

(Read Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24)

A while back Chevrolet trucks had a catchy slogan.  They would show some huge 4×4 pickup sliding through mud or towing a trailer three times its size.  Then the song would come on and some guy with a gruff voice would say, “Chevy: Like a Rock.”

Why’d they choose that slogan? Obviously, a rock invokes an image of strength and toughness. So do the words “refuge” and “fortress,” which (along with “rock”) are used several times in the verses we just read. We know that every psalm is a prayer, and this one is no different. David apparently is trying to paint a picture of his God as something more than a flower blown by the wind.

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We don’t know exactly what David was going through when he prayed this prayer.  But his words are powerful: “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge…Be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me” (vv. 1-2).  When David can’t depend on anyone else, he can depend on his God, who is steady, unwavering.  Who can he run to when it seems like the world is running after him? His Lord, of course.

We’ve been in situations like that before, right? Situations where we needed the one constant, the tower, the fortress that we can run to and be safe.  I am writing this right now miles away from you. Just as I don’t know what David was going through, I have no idea what you are going through today.  But hear this: God is your refuge.  HE will not let you down.  HE is a safe place.

Read these verses again slowly.  Pray them this time; pray the same prayer that David prayed 3 millennia ago.  And, most importantly, believe the words you’re saying.  They have always proven true.

Everywhere, With Everyone, All The Time

By Scott Armstrong

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 11:18-19).

(Read Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28)

As a missionary—and sports fan—who lived in Guatemala several years ago, I discovered that Guatemala hasn’t really found out that there are many other sports outside of soccer.  They love their soccer, and players for the national team are heroes after a big win.  After an especially big victory over Costa Rica, I listened to the commentator on the radio excitedly praise the player who had scored both goals.  I can still hear him encourage the listeners in Spanish to “Bring Juan Carlos Plata into your home!  He deserves a place in the kitchen!  In the living room!  Talk about him in the morning, afternoon, and night!  Tell your kids what he just did for Guatemala!” 

Although that seems a little bit ridiculous, our verses for today point us in a similar direction.  This time, however, it is God’s Word that we should think about and talk about during the day.  His words and commands should be “fixed in our hearts and minds,” talked about “when you lie down and when you get up.”  Both parents and kids should live and breathe his Word 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  We should all be familiar with what he did for us and how his Word instructs us in our daily life.

Does this mean we can’t talk about anything else but the Bible? Are we just supposed to walk around high school and chant memory verses? Of course not.  But it does mean that we’re not just getting into God’s Word every day; it’s getting into you.  Sometimes we hurry through our two minutes of devotions and ten minutes later can’t remember what we read.  According to today’s passage, that is pretty far from what God wants for our lives!

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Is God’s Word in you or are you barely getting into God’s word each day? Is it a part of you or is it the essence of who you are? With all of the pressures of being a teen, it might be hard to imagine yourself just soaking his word in like a sponge soaks in water.  But it will make a world of difference.  When Jesus experienced the toughest of times, God’s Word was so much inside him that he oozed Scripture (Luke 4:1-13).  What would happen if you took with you today the verses you just read and carried them in your mind and heart throughout all of the activities, stresses, and temptations of the next 24 hours? It might just change your attitudes, conversations, and the way you react to tough situations.  Why don’t we find out? Read those verses again and ask God to help put them under your skin and into your heart and life today.

News Flash: Noah Saved by The Grace of God

By Scott Armstrong

“God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Genesis 6:12).

(Read Genesis 6:9-22)

I always wondered why the story of Noah was a kids’ story.  Isn’t this about the judgment and wrath of God? While Noah and his family are cooped up as temporary zookeepers, the heavens are opened, the waters start to rise from the earth, and everybody else drowns.  Can you imagine how terrifying that would be if we told little Billy all the details? I guess it’s the animals.

But that’s not the only thing that strikes me as strange in this story.  We have to acknowledge that God is ticked off here.  He’s grieved, and his heart is filled with pain (v.6).  The wickedness was so bad that this same “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love…” (Ps. 86:15) puts his fist down and shouts, “Enough!”

Here’s the weird part: in the midst of sharing with Noah his plans to destroy humanity, he stops and gives detailed instructions about the boat Noah is supposed to build.  “I want three decks on this baby, Noah, and you have to use a certain type of wood….”  And then after specifying how Noah is supposed to gather his family and all the animals, the same God who is absolutely furious…waits.  Most scholars agree that it took Noah 120 years to build this massive ocean liner.  Why didn’t God just wipe everyone out when his anger was boiling? Or why didn’t he just tell Noah, “Build an ark, Noah; I’m sick of this”?

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The answer is the key to the story.  Even in his anger, God can’t not be gracious.  He loves his creation.  The very essence of his character is love.  So he takes the time to stop and tell the one guy who’s living a holy life what he needs to do to save mankind.  Isn’t that awesome? That means, as God’s children, we do not have to serve him out of fear, but are free to serve him out of love.  We can obey him, like Noah did, simply because we truly love him.  Are you at that point in your life?

Remember: even in judgment there’s grace.  Even in wrath there’s love.  And even a child’s story can teach us that.