A Return to Rainy Season

By Scott Armstrong

I need to confess something at the onset of this article.  It’s regarding my spiritual walk and I am not proud of what I’m about to say.

I am very faithful at doing my devotions every day, but I do not always meet with God.

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Your reaction is probably this right now

What?! Doing your devotions is reading the Bible, praying and reflecting, all with the purpose of growing closer to God.  How can you do all those things and not meet with God? It doesn’t make sense!

You are right; it’s insane!  It’s like meeting up at a café with a friend you’ve longed to catch up with, and then spending the entire time on your cellphone.  I’ll go further: it’s like doing THAT and then returning home and contentedly checking “Meet with friend” off your to-do list.

I am faithful every day to read my Bible.  I pray and sometimes listen to Christian music.  But if I am not careful, it is all hurried.  Lost in the assault of appointments to come.  And worst of all, forgotten 5 minutes after I close the Bible.

It needs to change.  And that is why we took yesterday as our office to dedicate to a day-long spiritual retreat: listening to God through silence and his Word, confessing to one another, and praying for individual and ministry requests.  It was a necessary time of renewal that each one of us sorely needed.

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As the rain started to softly fall upon the grass and shrubs in our front yard, God led me to Isaiah 55, especially verses 10-11:

“As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

I sensed him say:

“Just as the literal rain falling around you replenishes the soil,

allow me to refresh your soul every morning.

Don’t just open your Bible; dwell in my Word and let it dwell in you.

I desire to remake you into my likeness, but that takes time.

Are you willing to enjoy me or do you see me as another task to be completed?”

Ouch.

So I have committed to preparing the soil of my life to receive his nourishment every morning.  That can’t happen in five minutes of express-devotions.  Honestly, it won’t occur in 15 minutes either.  It will require making sacrifices in other areas.  THIS is the most important area.  THIS is the only real area that matters anyway.

If you have no devotional life, creating a habit of 5 minutes a day may be the first step.  God will honor that.  But if you have already developed the habit (or fallen into a rut), you need to take the next step.  Will you commit with me to make the necessary adjustments in order to move from ritual back to relationship?

In other words, let’s make sure we are faithful at “doing our devotions” every day.  But let’s make sure we truly meet with God during those times as well.

“Listen, listen to me…and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” –Is. 55:2

 

What do You do With The Robber?

Dr. Donald M. Joy writes in his book, The Holy Spirit and You, about sin being a thief.  His analogy equates the principle of sin to an armed robber in one’s home, an outlaw in the heart.  This is not far-fetched: John 10:10 tells us “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

Imagine yourself arriving home late one evening and discovering that an invader was inside your home and holding your child at gunpoint. As you wait in fear outside your home, you have to make a decision.  You must do something. But what?

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Should you simply ignore the problem and hope the criminal would decide to do no harm, quietly exit your home and go away?

Should you slowly enter your home, careful not to frighten the outlaw, and try to negotiate with him? Perhaps he would promise to steal only one item per day if you let him live in your home!

Or, maybe, you should rush into your home, tackle the would-be robber, throw him to the floor and hold him down so he could not use his gun. But then would you sit on him day after day suppressing his evil intent until one day you grew fatigued and he overpowered you?

As Dr. Joy clearly explains, in your own strength you cannot destroy the intruder.  The only real solution is to call for help from someone who has the authority and ability to remove the thief.

Are you catching the parallels? Many of us minimize the destructive capabilities of sin. But it steals our joy, kills our relationships, and destroys our lives.  If we ignore it, the problem grows worse.  Negotiating with it leads us astray as well (remember Adam, Eve, and the serpent?).  Trying to restrain it under our own power leaves us worn out and ultimately defeated.  Is this not the description of many Christians’ sad existence?!

The only way to remove the intruder is to call on a higher, more powerful authority.  Dr. Joy finishes his reflection exclaiming: “Hallelujah! God has made provision in Christ to cleanse our hearts from all sin!”  Hallelujah, indeed!

So, what are you waiting for? The robber has been present long enough!

“What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25)

 

Lessons From a Tightrope And a Wheelbarrow

By Scott Armstrong

“Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised (Romans 4:20-21).”

(Read Romans 4:13-25)

I have heard the story of a famous tightrope walker who decided to cross Niagara Falls on a rope he had tied from one bank to another. He publicized the huge event and thousands came to watch this impressive feat. Balancing himself high above the raging waters, he inched his way across while the hushed crowd watched in awe.

After he reached the other side, the crowd roared in approval. They had never seen anything like this amazing display of courage and skill. However, the acrobat was not finished.  He put on a blindfold and made his way slowly across again.  Successful, and hearing the crowd’s thunderous applause, the man made his way across another time, except this third time he was wearing the blindfold and pushing a wheelbarrow bit by bit over the thin rope.  The ovation this time was the loudest he had ever heard.

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Now this tightrope walker had never fallen during a public exhibition, and so he shouted down to the throng of onlookers, “Do you believe I can cross this tightrope blindfolded with this wheelbarrow once more?”

“Yes!!  We believe you can do it!!” the audience shouted back.

“If you really believe,” the man on the high wire replied, “then which one of you will get in the wheelbarrow?”

Romans 4:13-25 tells us that Abraham lived a life of faith.  He didn’t just talk the talk; he walked the walk.  He believed against all odds that he would have a kid at the ripe old age of 100, and it happened. He believed in the God who could raise the dead to life, so he nearly sacrificed his own son before God rescued him and commended Abraham for his faith. This is earth-shaking, mind-boggling stuff.  But Abraham remained “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (v.21).

When was the last time you truly stepped out on faith? We serve a God who “gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (v.17).  Will you trust him today in spite of the circumstances around you? Is it time to stop only saying you believe in him and time to get in the wheelbarrow and live it?

Taking Forgiveness For Granted

By Scott Armstrong

“Come, let us return to the LordHe has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (Hosea 6:1).

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(Read Hosea 5:15 – 6:6)

This passage records a conversation between God and his people.  The Lord starts in 5:15 by longing that his rebellious children will seek him.  Israel responds in 6:1-3 in what seems like genuine repentance.  And then God seemingly goes berserk in 6:4-6.  Why does he respond by “cutting them in pieces,” “killing them,” and “flashing lightning upon them” (v.5)? Does any of that make sense?

Let’s look closer.  Israel is treating forgiveness as a given.  God was always so forgiving before; why wouldn’t he be now? “Sure, we’ve sinned, but he’ll still heal us” (v.1).  “Two or three days of good sacrifices and he’ll come around” (v.2).  They take his forgiveness for granted so much that they actually act like they can sin during the night, ask forgiveness, and as surely as the sun will come up the next day (v.3), God will forgive them.

Be careful here.  That kind of attitude is fake and God knows it.  Their love is like the morning dew on the grass that disappears by noon on a hot day (v.4).  The point is clear.  Fake repentance is sickening to God.  He will not forgive those hearts.

In fact, God does not have to forgive anybody.  He longs to; he desires to (Hosea 11:8-9).  But sin is serious.  I think nothing makes God madder than when his own people sin and then ask forgiveness only to cover their bases.  My old youth pastor used to call it “fire insurance”—just lifting up a quick prayer to make sure you’re still going to heaven and not hell.  There is no changed heart and certainly no changed life.  “God will forgive me; I’m going to do what I want and get forgiven later.”

Read these verses again.  Then read 1 John 1:9. The messages are not contradictory.  If we genuinely confess our sins with all our heart, he will forgive us.  Bank on it.  But true confession does not include mouthing a prayer without any plans to change our actions.    

Is there sin in your life and, if so, how do you view it? According to our Lord, it is physically sickening (Rev. 3:16).  He calls us to be holy—a work that only he can do.  What he needs from us is a heart completely turned toward him.  Examine yourself.  Is today the day for genuine repentance?

Ain’t No Difference

By Scott Armstrong

“For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22b-26 NKJV).”

(Read Romans 3:22-31)

The verses we just read give us some pretty bad news.  We’ve all sinned.  Not one of us is good enough for God.  As The Message says, “We’re all in the same sinking boat,” and that means all of us.  As one country preacher puts it, “There just ain’t no diff’rence.”

Wait a second. No difference? That means the most awful murderer and the kindest, most generous person to ever live share the same destiny if it’s up to us and our own righteousness.

Let’s pretend there is a ladder stretching from humanity on Earth to God in the heavens.  If we piled up all the bad and good things we ever did where would the criminal be? The bottom rung, maybe? Where would Mother Teresa or Billy Graham be—people who have served Christ faithfully and changed the world through their ministries? Let’s put them on rung four or five. And you and I are somewhere in between. With just a few hundred more good works we can maybe reach God, right?

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There’s only one problem. The ladder has a million rungs. If it’s up to us to reach God by our own righteousness, we’re all hopeless. Even though in our eyes there may be a difference between us and others, in God’s eyes, we’re all at the bottom of the ladder. There just ain’t no diff’rence.

But the bad news is followed by really good news. It’s not up to us. It’s up to God.  Through his grace He can change our lives and we can spend eternity with Him.  The Message translates verses 23-24 this way, “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners…and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity…He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where He always wanted us to be. And He did it by means of Jesus Christ.”

So what? How does this affect the way we live? Well, we live overwhelmed at His grace, constantly thanking Him for saving us. And we also live humbly.  If we’re all sinners in need of a Savior, there is no room for bragging or thinking we’re better than anyone else (v. 27). God makes the difference.  Do you need more thankfulness or, perhaps, humility in your life? Is there someone in your life who needs to hear the good news that God makes all the difference? How can you show Christ to them today?

OK, Fine! I’m Sorry!!

By Scott Armstrong

“Listen, my people, and I will speak; I will testify against you, Israel: I am God, your God. I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me” (Ps. 50:7-8).

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(Read Psalm 50:7-15)

I am very lucky to have a brother.  Since he is only two years younger, we had many of the same friends and many of the same interests when we were growing up.  We played together a lot and are still good friends to this day.

But obviously we had our moments of fighting, too.  And I remember as my mom broke up many heated wrestling matches, she would look at me and demand, “Say you’re sorry, Scott.”  Of course, as an obedient son, with true remorse in my heart at what I had done, I would grudgingly mutter, “I’m sorry,” and then wait for my mom to leave before making a face at my brother.

If you have a sibling, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  There are ways to say “I’m sorry” genuinely, and ways to say those words without meaning an ounce of them.  There are times we have asked for forgiveness and meant it and times when we just did it because it was what we were supposed to do.

This is a theme we have had twice in the past week.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6).  In the psalm we just read, God is pleading again for obedience.  If I tell my brother, “I’m sorry,” and yet five minutes later do the same thing in order to irritate him, do I really mean it? God is dealing with the same thing.  So many of his people are praying to him or, in the Old Testament context, sacrificing bulls and goats, without ever having the intention of obeying him.  He desires thankfulness; he wants us to “fulfill our vows”—in other words, obey (v.14).  When we sincerely call on him, he will deliver (v.15), but he wants us to come to him in genuine humility and with a real desire to obey.

What has your relationship with God been like recently? Have you been serving him because you know you should or because you genuinely want to? Has your obedience come from your heart or merely been external? God wants us to obey him out of love and thankfulness for what he has done.  Pray with him right now.  That kind of relationship with him can begin today.

 

Our Great, Great God

By Scott Armstrong

“Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy” (Ps. 33:1-3).

(Read Psalm 33:1-12)

Let’s experience these words of worship together for a few minutes…

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As we start this psalm, we are instructed to make music to God, sing to Him, play instruments, shout for joy, and use every possible form of music to praise our Lord (vv.1-3)!  Why? Let’s count the reasons. We worship Him because this is the God:

Who is Right and True (v.4). He is always fair in his decisions.

Who is Faithful (v.4).  He keeps His promises and can always be trusted.

Who Loves Righteousness and Justice (v.5).  He does what is right and correct and delights when others do the same.

Who’s Love Never Fails (v.6). His love will never run out; he loves every person, every moment, in every situation they are in.

Who is Creator (vv.6, 7, 9). Out of nothing He dreamed the world and spoke it into existence. Out of nothing He created a masterpiece such as you.

Who is AWESOME (v.8). His greatness deserves our praise. In light of His               astonishing grace, the whole world will fall on their knees and worship Him.

Who is in Control (v.10). The nations and rulers and kings of this world are not in charge; He always has the last word.

Who is Constant (v.11). Through the ages of time His promises will never change and His will shall be eternally accomplished.

In the light of these reasons, we can see why the writer sings, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance” (v.12).

How will you praise such an incredible God today?