Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear

By: Emily Armstrong

International living has it’s ups and downs, that’s for sure. One question that has fascinated me for a while is when people ask me if I’m afraid to live in another country. And this week, a few things have happened to provoke deeper thinking on that topic – so I’m writing about it.

Scott and I were 26 years old when we first moved to the foreign mission field – Guatemala City to be exact. I’ve often said that God BLESSED us with a naive spirit and allowed us to continually think, “I guess that’s just the way it is on the mission field!” whenever something that should have made us anxious happened. I remember when we went to a town known for it’s kite festival, to see all the kites and experience a bit of kitesGuatemalan culture. What we didn’t know, is that about 10,000 people were PACKED into one main street of the small town, making it a great place for pick pockets to wander around unnoticed. We were there for about an hour and during that time had our camera stolen (out of a backpack that I was wearing on my front!) and Scott had a slit in his front jeans pocket, where someone had tried to slice open his jeans to allow his wallet to fall out. These were PROFESSIONALS. And we walked right into it – pretty naive. Thankfully, the wallet stayed put – and the camera…well, we mourned that loss for a little while.

Fast forward 16 years and there are still things around us that could or some would even say should frighten us. Like the email that I got yesterday from the US Embassy in Santo Domingo which was titled – Alert: Security Alert which proceeded to warn me:

Security Alert – U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (January 7, 2020)

Location: Dominican Republic

Event: Heightened Middle East Tensions

There is heightened tension in the Middle East that may result in security risks to U.S. citizens abroad.

The Embassy will continue to review the security situation and will provide additional information as needed.

Actions to Take:

  • Keep a low profile.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists
  • Review your personal security plans.
  • Have travel documents up to date and easily accessible.

Or the phone call that we got last night from Regional leadership asking about Scott’s trip to Puerto Rico this weekend. The Caribbean islands have been talking for months, if not years, about “The Big One” referring to a huge earthquake that should come someday because of the dozen fault lines that run through the islands. The most recent large earthquakes in Puerto Rico have increased the chatter, as well as our newspapers putting out advice on “What to do in the event of an earthquake”.

These are just a few things that have made me think about WHY my family serves the Church of the Nazarene as international missionaries. And the reason I come back to is because PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT ALL FEAR. John wasn’t just writing that sentence in his first letter to the Church because he thought it would look good on a print, or embroidered on a pillow. He wrote it, because he believed it. John, the same John that was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the gospel, tells us that perfect love casts out fear.

My spirit is quiet and at peace, because God has called me to this work of international living, working and serving and I trust that He is in control. I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. So when these events happen – and assuredly they will continue to happen – I find my strength coming from loving Him. He really does cast out all fear – and my family and I are living testimonies of that fact.

If you find yourself anxious for my family, or any missionary family living abroad, I would ask you to pray for us. Pray that we stand firm in the faith. Pray that we love God with everything in us and we love the people around us. Pray that we have courage to take light into dark places. God hears and answers these prayers and we are grateful that you join with us in ministry in this special way.

 

Show me Your Hands

By Leonard Sweet
(European Nazarene College, January 18, 2011)

I was reading Psalm 51:10 to my mother when she died: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a right spirit within me.”

Now the key to the holiness movement is a clean heart.  So give me an image for a clean heart.  What does a clean heart go with? Now the holiest person that has ever lived is named Jesus.  Pure holiness.

And what happens here with Jesus is that God comes down to earth.  How far down? How far down does the Incarnation go? Well, from the very beginning how far down does it go?  Where was Jesus born? In a royal palace? In a bassinet? How far down does the Incarnation go? Where does the Incarnation happen? It happens in a smelly stable, where the first thing Jesus experiences as an infant is what? Straw ticks. Little lice that live in straw. They bite your flesh.  And the smell of dung and animals.

But Jesus in the Incarnation went further than that because it not only went down to the very lowest of the human, but Jesus did something that no other Rabbi in history had done or allowed to happen.  In fact, it really bothered the disciples that he did this.  How far down did the Incarnation go? Jesus was the first Rabbi in history to do what? Wash his disciples feet.  That’s how far Jesus went.  All the way down.

And let me tell you, sisters and brothers, you don’t wash anybody’s feet without getting your hands dirty and wet.

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This is holiness!  You want an image of holiness? You have a clean heart? OK, here’s what goes with a clean heart – dirty hands.  You say you have a clean heart? I say, “What? Show me your hands.”

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Leonard Sweet

You are keeping your hands clean? “Oh, I wouldn’t want to get dirty.  We are supposed to be in the world and not of it…” What?! So your hands are too clean to get in the dirt? Oh, we need cleansing rituals all the time to clean us up.  But the whole purpose of cleaning us up is so that we can get dirty…

…Matthew 25 tells us what the question at judgment day will be.  “In as much as you did it to the least of these…”  In other words, here is the question at judgment day – Show me your hands.  You got clean hands? Go someplace else.  Because a clean heart means dirty hands.  Now this is an image of holiness.

The Superpower You Didn’t Know You Have: Four Benefits of an Active Prayer Life

By Dr. Stan Toler (1950-2017)

If you had a super power, what would you want it to be? I love to ask people that question. The responses are always interesting.

Flying tops the list. Others will say teleportation, invisibility, or x-ray vision. It’s fun to speculate about the good we might do if we had some unusual ability—or the adventures we might have!

That’s all fantasy, of course, but there really is a super power available to you, and to everyone—it isn’t so much a power we possess as it is a way to access the ultimate source of power. I’m talking about prayer.

When we pray, we have access to the presence of God himself, and His incredible power is available to us. As the apostle James put it, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Here are four ways that we can tap into God’s power when we pray:

  1. God’s resources become available.

Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” That’s not a platinum card to take to the shopping mall. It’s a promise that God will respond to provide for those who ask in faith.

When we have a need, we often try everything but prayer to meet it. Begin where the power is. Begin by calling out to God.

  1. You experience a supernatural calm.

The apostle Paul said after you have prayed, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds” (Phil. 4:7). I don’t know about you, but I think freedom from anxiety would be a great super power to have! That can be yours when you pray in faith.

  1. You make the past disappear.

John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). A sincere prayer of confession releases God’s forgiveness, washing away guilt, shame, and regret. While you may live with some consequences of past action, your prayer heard in heaven will make the guilt disappear.

  1. You unleash God’s healing.

God is merciful, and He often releases his healing power to those who humbly ask. James wrote, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well” (James 5:14). Is that a guarantee that every prayer for healing will be answered in the way we desire? No, but it does indicate the relationship between prayer and healing. We often miss out on God’s power because we simply don’t ask to receive it.

It would be a shame to have the super power of flying yet travel everywhere on foot; or to have super strength but allow yourself to be oppressed by others. And it’s unfortunate that many of us fail to use the truly amazing gift that we have available to us every day—prayer.

How active is your prayer life?

What would you do today, even now, to take advantage of this awesome power?

How have you seen the power of God at work in response to your prayers?

How I Knew God Was with Me in My Parents’ Divorce

By Scott Armstrong

September 1993.  I was 15 years old.  My dad and mom call a family meeting after supper.  My brother and I came down from our rooms, wondering what’s going on.  We usually had the famous “family meetings” once a year when some new rule was being enforced or when a vacation needed to be planned or discussed.

This time was different.  There was an eerie vibe to the room.  My dad exhaled audibly while my mom fidgeted with her hands.  Then—BOOM!—my world changed forever.  They were getting a divorce.  They just couldn’t work things out.  They had too many differences.  Blah, blah, blah.  Although it doesn’t make sense, part of me was hearing every word perfectly even while another part instantly tuned out the drone of their voices.

 

 

Then it was my turn.  “What do you mean, you can’t work out your differences? Are you some sort of teenage fling that is on today, off tomorrow? Did those vows you made years ago mean anything?” I was furious.  I was sad. I was numb.

That is reality #1.  That actually happened.  And I will never be the same again because of it.

So here is reality #2.  God with us.  “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you…the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5,9).  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  We hear a lot about this second reality around Christmas time, don’t we? The “Incarnation.”  God with us.  It kind of makes us feel warm inside, especially when things are going particularly well in life.

But what happens when Reality #1 and Reality #2 collide? As a teenager, I knew Reality #2 was true—I had heard about it every Christmas since I had been born. And I certainly knew Reality #1 was true—I was experiencing it like tumbleweed experiences a tornado.  And let me be honest: it was pretty tough to see how the reality of “God with us” could be right when the reality of the divorce was in my face every day.  The shouting. Mom moving out.  First time I had two Thanksgiving dinners, two Christmas trees, two houses where I did not feel at home in either.  Where was God in all this?

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 I have no easy answer.  I knew in my head that God was with me, but my heart and my life told me different. People at church with good intentions but little tact would come up to me and assure me, “You know, God is always with us, no matter what.  You will get through this.”  That’s what I really needed—a mini-sermon to make me feel better!  I already knew from Scripture that God was somewhere to be found in this whole muddle of loneliness and anger, but where?

I can look back now and see some indicators of God’s presence in that whole mess.  First, I learned that God “incarnates himself” in and through other people.  He is with us because other Christians give of their time and their tears to be with us too.  We always say that we are “the body of Christ” and that we need to be Christ’s “hands and feet” in the world, so why are we surprised when it actually happens? Through the love and compassion of my youth pastor and other teens and adults, I sensed God’s presence.

That does not mean people knew what to say; a lot of times they said some pretty stupid things.  It also does not mean I was not upset, frustrated, or even depressed at various points.  Yet, while some in my situation choose to hibernate and never talk to fellow churchgoers again, I had to get to church services every week.  That was where I sensed God’s presence—through music and preaching, of course, but also through God’s people that surrounded me with love on Sundays and throughout the week.

Second, I knew God was with me through my personal times with him. Before my parents’ divorce, I have to be truthful: I was a good Christian boy who did all of the right things.  Still, I did not have a deep relationship with Christ.  Well, all that changed when I found myself hopeless and with no one to talk to.  Normally in tough circumstances I would confide in my parents.  That wasn’t going to happen now; they did not exactly possess an objective perspective of the divorce!  I was able to talk to my youth pastor, but he did not really know what I was going through because his parents were still happily married.  So who could I turn to?

My only answer was God.  I started approaching my devotional times not as something to check off my list, but as the one time I could truly be myself.  I wept before God.  I yelled at him.  I began to wrestle with the words that I was reading in his Scripture.  Sometimes what I read made me mad; other times it comforted me.  I did not always hear a response.  I never heard voices from heaven nor did I receive some other tangible proof of his existence.  But in my quiet times, I began to trust him more.  In the toughest moments of my life, he became my closest friend, and he remains so to this day.

God with us.  It seems preposterous, doesn’t it? Especially when you are experiencing the reality of a life filled with brokenness and emptiness.  But that is what makes the second reality even stronger—God specializes in being with us not only in the good times when we “feel” him, but in the dark times filled with fear and loneliness. Let God speak his reality into your reality today.  God. With.  Us.

Revived by the Word

Freya Galindo Guevara

Over the course of our lives, we have all had to go through various situations that have left us feeling discouraged or defeated.  They made us feel beaten down, afflicted or worried.  Maybe we felt weakened, powerless, or like we had lost all our energy.  Many times instead of drawing close to God, we drift further and further away until we end up losing our focus.

To be revived means to give vitality or strength to a person who is weak, or to something that has lost energy. The opposite of reviving is to discourage.

Psalm 119 is well-known for being the longest chapter in the Bible.  There are many things one could say about this psalm: it is divided into 22 sections (8 verses each) that are each identified by a letter from the Hebrew alphabet.   Throughout the passage there are several terms the writer uses as synonyms for the law of God (word, commands, statutes, judgments, precepts, testimonies).  The psalmist makes comparisons between walking in God’s commands and walking in the natural ways of humanity.  The psalm also has many praises for the Word of God. These are only a few of the elements of Psalm 119.

The first time we find the word REVIVE (taken from the New American Standard Bible) is in verse 25, which says: “My soul cleaves to the dust; Revive me according to your word.” The word “revive” reappears nine more times through the rest of the Psalm.  Other English translations use the word “preserve” or forms of the phrase “give life.” In the NASB, the word “revive” appears 27 times, and 10 of them are in this single psalm!

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Maybe “reviving” is not a verb we use frequently when we refer to the scripture.  And that made me think: we know the Bible is our instructional guide, our map and our light. But how many times do we proclaim that the Bible has the capability to REVIVE?

If we are discouraged, afflicted, or dejected, if we feel we do not have enough strength or we are weak, do we immediately draw close to the Bible so that God, through his Word, can give us strength, vitality and energy?  Maybe we do seek the Bible, but not immediately.  Nevertheless, God’s word is the answer! The way the Lord can revive us is if we search for him in his own Word: “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have revived me” (Ps. 119:93).

The next time you feel discouraged, open your Bible! The words captured there can encourage you and absolutely revive you!

A Risky Proposition

By Scott Armstrong

I’ve been thinking about the parable of the talents recently.  And it’s making me uneasy.

You know the story, right? Matthew 25 tells us that a man gives one servant five talents, another servant two, and a final servant one.  After a long time away, the master comes back to find that the first two servants had doubled the money (a talent was worth more than a thousand dollars back then; that’s some good investing!). The third worker was cautious. He didn’t waste the money, per se, but he also didn’t invest it.  He buried it, making sure the master got his talent back when he returned; no big deal.

Except it was a big deal!  Judgment came down hard on that guy, including “darkness,” as well as “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

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I have often heard (and even preached) from this passage that we should be good stewards with our money, taking care of it, and using it wisely for the Kingdom. Those are good principles to adhere to, but that’s not exactly what’s going on in the story.

The parable of the talents is less about “using our talents wisely” than it is about risking it all for the Master and his Kingdom.  I mean, what if the investment strategies of the first two workers had tanked? At least the final servant didn’t lose the thousand bucks! We can explain away the gamble in hindsight, but that was truly a radical decision by those two!

The massive increase of talents for those servants who risked everything isn’t a lesson in wise money management.  It is a call to step out beyond the safe and the conventional in order to live by faith. Putting everything in the hands of God is the best investment we can make, but it will also be a white-knuckling thrill ride in the meantime.

When was the last time you took a jaw-dropping, stomach-churning risk? When was the last time you stepped out in faith to such a degree that you knew it would fail if God was not in it?

There is an amazing moment in the book of Exodus, when the nation of Israel finds itself on the banks of the Red Sea.  Pharaoh’s chariots are fast-approaching, and Moses and his people start begging God to rescue them.  God’s answer is pretty blunt: “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward” (Ex. 14:15).  Forward, God? You mean, into the Red Sea?! Do you see any problem with this?

To put it more bluntly, God was saying, “Stop praying and get moving!”

That’s a message I believe a lot of us need to hear…and obey.  Nevertheless, many Christians are some of the most risk averse people I know.  We’re more concerned with our own safety than with changing the world.  We’d rather be comfortable and go to heaven than share with others so they don’t go to hell.

That’s not the gospel Jesus preaches.  Leonard Sweet says in his book, The Well-Played Life, “Jesus does not want his followers, of whatever age, to hunker down and duck their heads.  Disciples are not called to avoid high-stakes risks and genuine challenges.  A disciple of Jesus operates in the world of risk.  Jesus placed himself in the firing line of history.  Sometimes he calls us to place ourselves in the firing line of history as well” (p. 169).

Signing up to go before firing lines goes against basic sanity and all human instinct to preserve ourselves.  But it seems to fit perfectly in the Kingdom: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Mt. 16:25).

Are you with me? Then let’s stop burying our talents and start daringly investing them. Let’s stop complaining about the army behind us and step into the Red Sea in front of us.  Firing lines and a transformed world await.

Paraguay Missionary Sacrifices Dream to Follow God

The following article was originally published at: Nazarene.org.

Yoan and Astrid Camacaro recently accepted the call to be missionaries for the Church of the Nazarene in Paraguay after serving as pastors in Ecuador for more than five years.

Both Yohan and Astrid are humble and willing to follow God’s lead wherever it might take them; however, their call to missions didn’t happen overnight. 

Yoan grew up in Venezuela in the underprivileged community of Andres Bellos. He started attending the Church of the Nazarene in his early teens and became very involved in church activities.

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Ever since he was a child, Yoan’s dream was to be a professional baseball player and rescue his family from poverty. His grandmother gave him a baseball glove as a gift when he was young, and his family quickly realized he was very talented. 

As he got older, he got better and was noticed by professional scouts. One day, he received a telephone call from the Atlanta Braves, who offered him a contract to go to America to play baseball. That same day, he received a call from his local district superintendent who believed Yoan had a gift for ministry and suggested that Yoan attend the Nazarene Seminary in Quito, Ecuador. 

Lost, Yoan went to his Bible and found the verse in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

At that moment, Yoan knew what he had to do. He declined the offer to play professional baseball, and he went to the seminary. 

During his time at seminary, Yoan met his wife, Astrid, who was born into a Christian home in Ecuador and felt called to ministry at 15 years old. 

Growing up, Astrid served as a youth leader and Sunday School teacher. She has always a strong passion for discipling, mentoring and involving young people in ministry and missions.

After graduating from seminary, the two were married in 2011. They lived in Venezuela for a while where their son, Yared, was born. Yoan is currently pursuing a master’s degree in cross-cultural missions with Nazarene Seminary of the Americas in Costa Rica.

In 2013, the Camacaros planted a church in Ibarra, Ecuador, where they have pastored until their recent call to missions. 

“We are excited to start this new adventure and serve God with love and passion,” the Camacaros said. “We know that great things are coming for the country of Paraguay, and we are ready to develop strategies for growth.”

Now, Yoan hopes that God will use his son to carry out his dream of becoming a professional baseball player.