A Mighty Fortress

By Dr. Clark Armstrong

One of the great byproducts of the Reformation was that the people started singing. The chants of the monastic era, which had been almost entirely in Latin, were the only music of the church. But suddenly the common people came alive like the early church singing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16) in their own languages. It greatly changed the worship of the Protestants and the people have never stopped singing!

Martin Luther wrote many hymns for the church to sing. But we would do well to think about the words of his most famous hymn. It is called “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” taken from Psalm 46. It has motivated soldiers going into battles. It has empowered many Christians who felt themselves to be experiencing great spiritual warfare as well. It always seemed to encourage the believers in the church that I came into as a Christian.

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You cannot leave any verse out of this hymn because it is a classic account of the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, even God and the devil. It builds up with dramatic overtones until its grand conclusion. One of my favorite lines is a simple one. Speaking of that dastardly devil, it says “One little word will fell him.” One day in church as we were singing it, I realized what that little word was. See if you can figure it out.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,

Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

ClarkA1.jpg*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.

 

 

The Protestant Reformation 500 Years Later

“Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out…At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out.  They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses” (Numbers 9:21, 23).

October 2017 is a special month. It marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The end of this month, October 31, will be five hundred years to the day since Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the act that started it all, that started the grand and vast movement of Protestantism, that started the Reformation.

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In the evangelical church – and in the Church of the Nazarene specifically – we have obviously been greatly impacted by the Reformation.  If you have ever asked, “Why do we do this or that in the Church?”, many times the answer comes in large part due to the Protestant Reformation.

During the entirety of this month, we will be focusing on this anniversary. At times we will dive into the lives of the Reformers.  Other times we will focus on the core tenets of the Reformation (keep an eye out for the “5 Solas”). The primary purpose will be to help us learn about and reflect upon this enormously important event and how it has brought us to this moment in history as a Christian Church.

At the same time, a secondary purpose is also at work.  By dedicating a month to this topic, I hope that we will recognize that we are a Church that is always willing to evaluate itself and make adjustments as needed.  We have not always been good at that through history, have we? The Church has often been the last entity in society that is willing to change.

Thus, through this month I pray that we would renew our calling to reform, beginning with ourselves.  Just as the post-Exodus Israelites needed to be ready in any moment to follow the cloud, may we be so attuned to God’s presence that we willingly move and adapt at his prompting.  Lord, begin a reformation in me, and in us!

2017 Thank Offering for the World Evangelism Fund

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We must fix our sights on places where the church is not yet, engaging in intercessory prayer, sacrificial giving, and physically going to and mobilizing others to go to these places. Each time you give to the World Evangelism Fund, you send the message of the gospel into areas where “the church is not yet.”

For more information and to download the resources visit the official website: nazarene.org/generosity

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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?

8 Good Questions to Evaluate Your Church

By Dan Reiland

It’s easy to get so busy doing ministry that you don’t take the time to evaluate your ministry.

But evaluation is how you get better.

It’s like your annual physical. No one wants to get a check-up, blood work, and maybe a test or two, but that’s how you learn what you need to know.

Then, of course, you need to act on what you learn.

The 4-point plan to get better:

  • Ask the right questions.
  • Give honest answers in a group process.
  • Determine the best-prioritized plan for improvement.
  • Take action.

It starts with asking the right questions.

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8 good questions that will help your ministry get better:

1) How is the unique culture of your church helping you make progress?

Sam Chand wrote an excellent book titled Breaking Your Church’s Culture Code. He states that more than vision, programs, money, or staff, culture has the greatest impact on your church’s future.

How would you describe your culture? Is it what you want? Is your church culture helping or hurting as you pursue God’s purpose for your church? What changes do you need to make? If the culture is healthy, what practices are in place to stay healthy?

2) How would you describe the overall morale of your church?

Are the people happy with your church? That question seems very subjective but is surprisingly easy to answer.

Do they trust the leadership? Are they fired-up about the mission? Are they passionate about following Jesus? Is there momentum? Are problems solved with relative ease (without significant resistance? You get the idea.

Morale and culture are closely linked. If you are struggling and the culture and morale are not ideal, I urge you to pour your leadership energy there first.

3) What is your approach to spiritual formation in your church?

Is there an overall sense that people are pursuing God? It’s not about perfection, but do you see progress? What factors do you consider important to help assess spiritual maturity?

Consider things like prayer, serving others, obedience, and financial generosity. How about the fruit of the Spirit like love, joy, and peace, etc.?

Do you utilize small groups? How is community developed? What priority does biblical truth hold? A great overall approach to assess spiritual growth is to gather stories of life change.

4) Are you developing new leaders?

Next to the favor of God, everything rises and falls on leadership. Do the leaders in your church demonstrate a strong spiritual depth and a servant’s heart? What is your plan to find and develop new and better leaders? You will not realize your potential as a church without a serious dedication to this process.

5) How would you describe the strength of your volunteer teams?

Are your volunteers part of vibrant and productive teams or a struggling band of survivors? Much of that depends on how you select, train, encourage and empower your volunteers. Do you recruit to a vision or just to get a task done?

All churches face the pressure of needing people to volunteer to serve, but how you build teams makes a significant difference. How would you rate the overall esprit de corps of your volunteer ministries? What is the first best step to strengthen your teams?

6) What are the financial indicators telling you?

It is relatively easy to measure results when it comes to money. The weekly offering defines reality. At the same time, one of the largest challenges a leader will ever face is successfully inspiring the people to trust God with their finances and remain faithful to generous giving.

Are you bold in your teaching of God’s truth about money? Do you offer practical training about money management? Do you personally model generosity? Where are you stronger regarding money, faith or practice?

7) Are you on mission?

You must first be clear about the purpose of your church. What is your mission/vision – exactly? Does your congregation have a good sense of what it is? Are you acting on that mission?

It’s essential that your leaders become and remain aligned together in that mission. It will always feel like you are swimming upstream if you are not headed in the same direction.

8) Do your people enthusiastically invite others to your worship services?

I have coached churches where the people had obviously lukewarm feelings about the worship service. They were not motivated to invite someone even if they had a friend they wanted to bring.

It’s not always the worship service, but it starts there. Is there anything about your church that would cause your congregation to pause about inviting their friends?

This is a huge evangelistic combination. If your people are committed to the vision enough to invite people to church, and your worship experience (from nursery to invitation) is worth inviting people to – that is the combination you work toward!

I trust these questions will be helpful to you and the health of your church.

I pray God’s wisdom for your leadership and His favor upon you!

This article was originally published at: danreiland.com

 

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?