Blameless? That’s Impossible!

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’” (Genesis 17:1-2)

By Emily Armstrong

God is renewing his covenant with Abraham that the promise of a great nation would come from Abraham and Sarah.  Verse 1 says that Abraham is 99 years old when God has this conversation with him.  I can only imagine that he was thinking, “OK, God, I’ll be a first time dad, but only with your help.”  As long as we are talking about doing the impossible, did we miss the small but significant phrase in verse 1 that says, “Walk before me and be blameless”? Again, Abraham has to be thinking, “OK, God, but only with your help.”

Does God really expect Abraham to be a dad at age 99? Yep.  Does God really expect Abraham to walk before him and be blameless? You bet.  And God expects the same from us.  Is it a fair expectation? Yes, but only because we have the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Holy Spirit helps us to make the right choices, and helps us continually walk before God and be blameless.  It’s not to say that the Holy Spirit makes our decisions for us, but he’s continually guiding us in the correct paths, if we allow him to.

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I remember when I was in college that I really started struggling with the concept of being blameless.  I had been a Christian since I was a little girl, but the Holy Spirit started speaking to me about the kind of music that I listened to.  It wasn’t BAD music, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  I had to really wrestle with the Lord and see if what I was listening to was helping my relationship grow stronger with Him.  I’m sure you aren’t surprised to learn that I realized that the Holy Spirit was right, and I made some changes in my music.  It was hard, and it was a process, but I know that it’s helped me even to this day to walk blamelessly before God.

So, are you up to it?  Have you been feeling like the Holy Spirit’s been talking to you about some of the habits that you have that are keeping you from walking blamelessly before God?  If so, then start evaluating the changes that you need to make, and start making them. You’ll soon learn like I did, that walking blamelessly is possible, with God’s help.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

 

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I am not Ashamed

By Scott Armstrong

“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord.” There it is, in black and white in verse 8 of the first chapter of 2 Timothy.  No getting away from it; testifying about what Jesus is doing in our lives is the expectation.  It’s what Christian’s do.  So, why is doing it so hard?

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I’ve been a missionary in various countries for the last sixteen years, and I’ve realized over that period of time that I, too, fell into the category of being “afraid” to share with non-believers what Jesus was doing in my life.  As a missionary, it’s part of my job description to be ready at all times to share Jesus Christ with whoever I might meet.  But amazingly enough that was part of my job description before I became a missionary, as well.  It is something that I should have been doing on a daily basis since the day that I became a Christian.

Maybe you’re thinking that you’re not experienced enough. What would you say anyway? Well, is God working in your life? Have you seen his healing hand, or his hand of protection, or his hand of mercy? Those are stories that you can share – nobody can say that they didn’t happen.  They might not believe that GOD was the reason that they resolved, but it shouldn’t stop you from sharing them.  Every time that you share about the greatness of God, a seed has been planted.

So, are you ready to start sharing what God is doing in your life with your friends? Don’t be ashamed to testify about how awesome our God is.  In fact, once you start doing it, you’ll find that it becomes easier.  Just like anything else, practice makes perfect.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

“So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” (John 4:5-9)

By Scott Armstrong

Have you ever noticed how good Jesus is at putting himself into other people’s shoes?  In this passage, we see him doing it again.  Jesus is a Jew that is on his way to Galilee, and he decides to travel THROUGH Samaria, instead of going around it, like most other Jews of that time. Jews did everything possible to stay away from Samaria and Samaritans, and the Samaritans felt the same way about the Jews.  Jesus is no common Jew.  Jesus walked into Samaria and sat down in a very common meeting place for women. It’s as if he is inviting a conversation from somebody that was coming to draw water from the well.  And that’s exactly what happened.

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The minute that Jesus stepped foot inside of Samaria’s borders, he became the outcast.  By no small coincidence, Jesus finds the Samaritan woman – an outcast in her own town.

I think this is a lesson that we all need to learn as early in life as possible.  Why is it that popularity is SO important to us when we are in Junior and Senior High? Why do we exclude people, just because they dress differently or talk differently or don’t run in the same social circles we do? Why can’t we try to put ourselves in other people’s situations?

How could you ever effectively minister to somebody that is excluded? In this scripture, we see that Jesus became the outcast in order to minister to the outcast – and it changed her life.  Could Jesus be calling you to find somebody that needs a friend? I think he’s at least calling us all to see the world as He does, and start including the excluded.  Maybe that means looking outside of your normal “clique” and involving some new faces. Maybe that means integrating your youth group, and making sure that Senior Highers know Junior Highers and vice versa.  Whatever the step is, start taking it now.  Change the world – one person at a time.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong. 

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:4-9)

By Emily Armstrong

God is calling Jeremiah to be a prophet, and he calls him pretty clearly.  Even after knowing EXACTLY what God wants him to do, Jeremiah still says, “I do not know how to speak”– he starts offering excuses as to why he can’t do what God has called him to do.  God seems to take it in stride and tells him not to worry; he would be with Jeremiah and even goes as far as putting the words in his mouth!  I don’t know about you, but it seems like Jeremiah doesn’t have many excuses left!

Do you ever feel that way?  That you sincerely ask God what he wants you to do with your day, your week, your life, and the answer that he gives you seems impossible?  When we ask God something, are we really ready to hear what he has to say to us?

When my son was little, he would like to give me 2 options to choose between, like “Mom, do you want this yellow block or this blue block?” After I had chosen what color I wanted, he would look at me and tell me if I chose the right one.  It never was my choice at all, and he really didn’t want to know what I wanted.  He knew all along that he was going to give me the yellow block, whether I chose it or not.

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I think we often approach God that way.  “OK, God, I have a decision to make – do you want me to talk to the new girl in class or should I just leave it up to someone else?” All along we are hoping that God tells us to just leave it up to someone else, and when he says, “Yeah, I want you to talk to the new girl,” we tell him we aren’t prepared to do that…could he ask us about that tomorrow?

Oftentimes God makes it very clear what He wants us to do and he wants us to be obedient to him.  We might have a very good excuse as to why we CAN’T do it, but God can usually remedy that. Just like Jeremiah learned, God will provide a way for us to do his will.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

Lord, Teach us to Pray

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:1-4)

By Emily Armstrong

I think that we can all agree that Jesus was a pretty excellent teacher.  After all, he always had hundreds or thousands of people following him, hanging on his every word.  He told lots of good stories and lived out exactly what he taught.  This teacher was also a prayer warrior, and I think it was wise of the disciples to ask the best teacher ever to teach them how to pray (v. 1). Can you imagine getting lessons in prayer from Jesus?!?  Prayer is simply an act of talking to God, and Jesus couldn’t get enough of it.

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Why is it so hard for us to pray?  I think it’s because we still think there is only one way to do it – locking yourself in your dark closet and pouring your heart out to God for at least an hour every day.  At this point in my life, I don’t even have an hour to sit down and eat lunch, let alone lock myself in a dark closet.  I’ve found that having short times of prayer with God throughout the day has helped me remain consistent in my prayer life.  Almost every day I have one main time of prayer, when I journal my thoughts, dreams, hopes, requests.  This is my really focused time of prayer, and I’ve found that sitting down with my journal and pen really helps me block out the other distractions around me.  BUT, I don’t just leave my prayer life once the journal is closed.  All throughout the day, if I think about something that I need to pray about, I’ll stop and pray a 30 second prayer.  Keeping prayer as a constant staple at all hours has helped me to keep focused on God throughout the day.

If you need to establish a better prayer life, the best thing to do is start small.  Give God a few minutes every day and pretty soon you’ll start to realize that you can’t get enough of it – just like Jesus.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

From Stranger to Lord

By Scott Armstrong

I was a squirrelly little seventh-grader when they broke me the news: the new youth pastor was going to be at church this Wednesday.  Some guy named Ed Belzer.  I had heard he was nice, funny, and really loved teens.  But I wanted to see for myself.

That Wednesday I was talking with a friend in the lobby when somebody comes up behind me and wraps me in a suffocating bear hug.  Who was it? What were they going to do? My defenses were up.  I couldn’t move my arms so I quickly and forcefully swung my foot back and kicked the offender as hard as I could.  He exhaled a loud groan and released his death grip on me.  I wheeled around to see our new youth pastor doubled over on the ground. “Hi.  I’m Ed,” he grimaced as he offered me his hand.

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I quickly got to know this new guy through the next months and years.  This stranger I had initiated so brutally soon became my pastor and the guy in charge.  Before I knew it, this leader became my best listener while I was going through my hardest times.  Now, after years of sharing and praying together, I count him as one of my closest friends.

I think that in part explains what is happening in our passage.  Did you notice how the blind man refers to Jesus? In John 9:11, he tells the crowd basically that “some guy named Jesus” healed him (“He replied, ‘The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.’”).  Later, he decides that Jesus is a prophet (v.17). As he receives threats and is forced to wrestle with what has happened to him, he boldly tells his critics that this Jesus is without a doubt from God (v.33 “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”).  Later, this same Jesus seeks out the man he healed and the entire encounter produces a remarkable transformation: “Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him” (v.38).  Wow! In one day, a man born blind was saved from his physical AND spiritual darkness!  This stranger named Jesus had become his Lord!

Where are you on this journey of discovering who God is? Keep seeking him, because your relationship with him will grow more and more with each passing day!

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

Cause and Effect

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” (John 9:1-3)

By Scott Armstrong

I am not a scientist, but I do remember a few things from my physics class in high school.  I recall that the Law of Cause and Effect is very important.  In chemistry, when I mixed chemical A with chemical B (cause), there was a small explosion (effect).  Cool! When we are sick, we take medicine (cause) so that we will feel better (effect).  The Law of Cause and Effect is all around us, and it helps our crazy world make sense.

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So we should not be surprised when we want to boil everything spiritual down to simple cause and effect.  You’ve heard it before: if you trust in God, he will make you rich with houses and cars and lots of money.  On the other side, if a Christian develops cancer (effect), there has to be some spiritual cause, right? She lacks faith.  Or maybe she has been secretly sinning (gasp!)!

In Jesus’ day, people took this law even further. In John 9, Jesus and his disciples pass a blind man on the road.  He obviously was blind because of his own sin—or even his parents’ sin, correct (v.2)? That makes more sense—if people only suffer or experience difficulties in life because of the stupid things they do, that fits our idea of what is just and right.  He or his family has sinned (cause).  Therefore, this man is blind (effect).

Jesus blows that theory out of the water.  Neither he nor his parents have done anything wrong. This man was born blind so that people could see God work in his life (v.3)!  There was a divine purpose even in this man’s inability to see.

I wonder if we view the hardships in our life the same way. Sure, many times we bring bad things upon ourselves as a result of our stupid decisions or because of sin in our lives.  But sometimes bad things happen to good people simply so that God’s work may be displayed in their lives.  We do not always understand it.  In fact, sometimes those around us will react with disbelief or shock (see the rest of chapter 9).  But God has a plan.  I don’t know about you, but that makes the darkness of the moment seem a whole lot more manageable. He will be with us and work in us until his purpose is displayed in our life. 

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.