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.  The series will continue in the next 4 entries.

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The Story of Christina Begins

Recently, we have been receiving reports from our missionaries who have been planting churches through the Genesis initiative. They have been serving for more than a year in each of their assigned places and they are starting to see a great harvest. Here, we want to share one of the team’s testimonies in Queretaro, Mexico, written by Jhoselyn Barrios.

Christina is a 22-year-old young woman who has four siblings. She and her siblings live with their parents in Los Olvera. They moved to this place last year; previously they had lived in another municipality called Cadereyta. As a family, they have a plant nursery, which is their source of economic income.

We met Christina at the Community’s Center of Human Development, where we are serving as volunteers teaching computer classes and basic literacy. Some time ago, we enrolled in a Zumba class with the purpose of better getting to know the women of the community. Maybe some people will read this and say: That’s crazy! Zumba classes? But the truth is that it is a good place to meet people, to laugh, to empathize with others and to initiate conversations.

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After two days of getting to know her, Christina got in touch with us. We let her know that we were having a special activity for Women’s Day and also a beauty workshop. That’s how Christina began to get involved in our activities.

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After getting to know her more, we were able to schedule a visit to her home. Praise the Lord: that day all her family accepted Christ in their hearts!

A few weeks ago, Christina celebrated her birthday, and everyone was invited to eat at her home. We brought a birthday cake and a present for her. We spent time with her family and we felt at home when we visited them. Now they are one of the families that are receiving discipleship in order to be baptized. God is doing a marvelous thing in Queretaro!

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Isn’t it exciting to see what God is doing in our cities?! Please pray for Christina and her family. Also, pray for our two teams of missionaries working in Panama City and Queretaro.

 

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.  The series will continue in the next 6 entries.

Being Like Them

By Freya Galindo Guevara

“ . . . I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22

When the message of salvation has changed our lives, we become passionate about sharing it.  That implies that we must find better ways to share it, both energetically and effectively. The Apostle Paul had an intense desire to share the Word of God and his own testimony with other people.  He realized something important.  Even though he wanted to share with everyone, when he traveled to different cities and towns he found that each one was different. They looked, thought and behaved in different ways.  Is it possible to share the same message with people who are so very different from one another?

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He gives us the answer to this important question: the answer is yes. Paul mentions that he voluntarily chose to act as a servant and, by doing so, win the most people possible.  The principles don’t change, and neither does his identity rooted in Christ, but he tries to enter the distinct environment of each group of people. His only purpose is to share the message of the gospel, not only with words, but also by living among them. Paul is not toying with his Christian behavior, but he does try to understand the perspective of different groups, not from afar but rather up close, even becoming like them.

We are all surrounded by people who are different but share something in common.  They all need God.  Maybe they don’t look or speak much differently, but they assuredly think differently from us. Are we trying to understand their perspective?  From a safe distance, do we try to share the only message that can change their lives? Or do we make an effort to draw close to those who are in need?

The urgency and importance of speaking the gospel compels us to get close to people.  We must choose voluntarily, without losing our Christian identity, to become like them so that they can hear the salvation of God and also see it through our testimony.

*Freya Galindo serves as a missionary with the Church of the Nazarene and is Global Missions Coordinator in the Central Field: Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

How the Holy Spirit and Fire Overcome the Negative Winds in your Life

By Rev. Rob Prince

This Little Light of Mine is a beloved children’s song that is known around the world. The anonymous song is an old negro spiritual that has been sung in Sunday schools and in cathedrals. The lyrics simply sing the truth that while we may only have a little candle light, when we don’t hide it, letting it shine and not allowing Satan to blow it out, then the darkness flees!  I can appreciate that truth. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.

Don’t throw stones at me (or hide me under a bushel? No!), but there’s a problem with little lights. The little candle’s flickering flame is easily blown out. It doesn’t take Satan to “poof” it out.  Any nasty wind will do. I’ve seen enough funniest home videos to know that everyone from grandmas losing their dentures to babies covered in frosting can blow out the little candle lights on a birthday cake. Little candle lights are fragile. They blow out easily.

A booming campfire, on the other hand, the type of campfire that has lots of wood, lots of flames and perfect for s’mores can’t be blown out by grandmas, babies or any other windy happening. In fact, wildfire experts know that forest fires are not reduced by the wind, they actually grow stronger by wind. Wind extinguishes a candle, but it energizes a fire.

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Throughout the Bible, fire represents the power and presence of God. Moses encountered God at the burning bush, and later God appeared in a pillar of fire to lead his people in the wilderness (Exodus 3:2; 13:21). On Pentecost, following the sound of rushing wind, Luke tells that something like tongues of flame rested on each of the disciples gathered. They were immediately filled with the Holy Spirit, and their lives and the world were changed forever. All of this fulfilled John the Baptist’s prophecy that the Messiah would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11-12). That’s what we need too—to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire.

When we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and fire, even the hardiest winds can’t blow us out. Winds are going to come to everyone. Winds of discouragement. Winds of negativity. Winds of temptation. Winds of heartbreak. Winds of grief. Those winds are generated in some cases by the stuff of life, but other times those cold gusts come via the blowhards in our way. Difficult circumstances and negative, carnal people can try to extinguish your little light. But people who are consumed with the Holy Spirit and fire aren’t frail and failing like a little candle when the winds are blowing.  Instead blazing Holy Spirit filled believers look at the wind and those people in our life who are full of hot air and quote Paul, “We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Don’t simply be a fragile, little light in a dark, dark world; instead be empowered by the all-consuming Holy Spirit and fire! Even tornadoes are no match for the Spirit’s fire. Maybe a change of lyrics is in order. “This BIG light of mine is Jesus and “even the wind and waves obey him.” (Matthew 8:27). It’s not a catchy tune, but it’s true!

This article was originally published at: robprinceblog.wordpress.com.

Love that Destroys Cultural Barriers

A devotional adapted by Claudia Cruz Martínez from William Barclay’s commentary:

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 4:9

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is well-known.  There are so many lessons that we can take from this passage, but in this short scripture, the idea is to reflect on the preeminence of the love of Jesus over cultural barriers.

First of all, let us set the scene of this incident. Palestine is only 200 km from north to south, but in the time of Jesus it was divided into three parts.  Galilee was in the north, Judah in the south, and Samaria was in the middle.  At this stage in his ministry, Jesus wanted to transfer his operations to Galilee. To take the shortest route, he had to pass through Samaria, but a centuries-old feud between the Jews and the Samaritans complicated things.  For a Jew, the safer route was to cross the Jordan River, head north on the eastern edge, and then cross the Jordan River again into the high country of Galilee. The safer route took twice as long. Jesus chose the shorter route that cut through Samaria, possibly not only to gain time but also to fulfill part of his mission.

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In this passage we see Jesus breaking down the cultural and racial barriers of the people of his time in several ways:

  1. Jesus dared to cross Samaritan territory.
  2. The disciples bought food in a Samaritan town (it is unlikely that they would have done that themselves without Jesus requesting it).
  3. Jesus showed his true human character, his weariness and his thirst.
  4. Jesus showed his love and compassion by speaking with a woman. In that time men did not seek out conversations with women.  Usually they would not even speak directly to them. This woman would have been ashamed that a religious leader of the day would speak with her.  Added to this, she unknowingly had allowed Jesus to discover her sinful condition, because of the hour of the day in which she went to draw water.
  5. Jesus broke down the racial barrier. This woman was a Samaritan.  The struggle between the Jews and the Samaritans was an old one. For that reason, the woman was surprised that Jesus spoke to her.  Jesus broke down national and racial prejudices.

What cultural barriers do we need to tear down today?  What barriers have infiltrated and grown up in our churches?  When was the last time that you tried to cross a border to give a message of hope and love?

“Here was the Son of God, tired and weary and thirsty. Here was the holiest of men, listening with understanding to a sorry story. Here was Jesus breaking through the barriers of nationality and orthodox Jewish custom. Here is the beginning of the universality of the gospel; here is God so loving the world, not in theory, but in action.” William Barclay

*Claudia Cruz serves as the youth pastor in the Betania Church of the Nazarene in Ciudad Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Mexico. She is also the Global Mission Coordinator for the Mexico Field.