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.

Harmon Schmelzenbach III: A Missionary Legacy

A few days ago much of the Church of the Nazarene worldwide was informed of the death of Harmon Schmelzenbach III on January 2, 2019.h schmelzenbach  NCN News published a worthy obituary of Harmon, which should certainly be read by any Nazarene who wants to become familiar with missions in our denomination.

I was never able to formally meet Harmon III, although I have ministered alongside his son, Harmon IV, and his grandson, Quinton, in different settings during the past several years.  However, without knowing me, Harmon III made an impact on my life.

I grew up as a part of Central Church of the Nazarene in Lenexa, Kansas, USA.  We often had 8-10 missionaries a year preach in our services (side note: I cannot fathom when churches who receive one or two missionaries a year complain of “having too many missionaries”).  All were important in building the foundation for what later I would recognize as God’s missions call on my life, although I would not say many were memorable, per se.

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Quinton and Harmon Schmelzenbach IV have carried on their family’s missions legacy.

Harmon Schmelzenbach III was the exception!  As an adolescent, I remember his tales of traversing the African landscape in order to preach the gospel to new villages and people-groups.  I remember some of the perils of the wildlife he encountered on those trips.  By the time he told us he had crossed the fourth river, I looked down at my watch and realized he had literally been preaching for an hour and 45 minutes! That may seem shocking, but what stuns me even more is that at that age I had not even noticed!  He had our entire youth group (and the rest of the congregation) entranced by his evangelistic passion and ability to tell the story of missions and of God himself.

Needless to say, when God called me five or six years later to be a missionary, I was ready.  It was not an “out-of-the-blue” thing.  If God was calling me to be like Harmon, my answer would be an immediate “yes.”  And now, having ministered cross-culturally for 16 years, I see how I have been influenced by this “giant of the faith” both on the field and as I share with churches on home assignment.

Missions has changed in the past three decades since then and now more of us live as missionaries in big strategic urban centers.  Many of us will never need to cross many rivers and fend off venomous snakes at every turn.  But the passion for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ must never wane.  Harmon III learned that from his parents and grandparents and passed it on to future generations of Schmelzenbachs.  But he also passed it on to me as well.

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

Most churches I’ve been to are designed for someone just like me.

As much as I enjoy the Caribbean flavor of our worship, it is a constant reminder that our service and programs are not designed to reach me—they are designed to speak the heart language and meet the needs of other people in our community.

That’s how it should be, of course. But it strikes me that for all of my life I’ve been part of churches that were actively accommodating to people just like me—people my age and my race and my socioeconomic status. And I never thought of our worship and programs as “how we do church.” I thought of those things as “how people ought to do church.”

The implications of this lesson don’t stop with my past church experience. It’s become clearer to me in recent months that the vast majority of ministry resources, even Christian resources more broadly, are produced with “me” in mind. I’ve enjoyed a privileged status for a long time and never really realized it. I feel it as soon as something isn’t tailored to my tastes.

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The gift that comes from worshipping in a service that isn’t designed for me is that it reveals the depth of my consumeristic relationship with church. This is not a fun lesson, but it’s an important one.

Diversity doesn’t just “happen.”

We thought moving to one of the most diverse cities in America would mean that we would find comfortable diversity everywhere. Boy were we mistaken. The longer I live in New York City the more striking it is to me how segregated the city is. Neighborhoods and even blocks divide along ethnic designations. Schools can be monocultural even in diverse neighborhoods. It’s harder than I realized to find churches in the city that are committed to radical diversity.

All our social and civic systems work against ethnic and socioeconomic integration. It’s possible I knew that intellectually before now. But living where we live and worshipping where we worship has driven the point home: diversity doesn’t just “happen.” It takes deliberate and uncomfortable intentionality. It takes a group of people who are happy to hear all the church announcements twice—once in English and then again in Spanish—happy to sing all the songs in two languages. It takes a group of people who are willing to sacrifice their preferences so someone who sits near them can hear God speak to them the way they need to hear him.

I suppose the real gift of worshipping in a diverse urban church has been the tangible hospitality. While our service is not designed to appeal to my tastes, I am frequently moved by how accommodating people are to make sure my family feels welcome. We have been the recipients of great grace and kindness. That grace and kindness has made this vast new city feel small and familiar.

This article was originally published at: City to City.

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 1 of 2

By Brandon O’Brien

When we moved from Arkansas to New York City, we settled in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. Our decision to live in Washington Heights was determined primarily by economics. I just could not imagine paying so much rent for so little space somewhere like the Upper West Side.

So, completely naively, we moved into the Heights and immediately became ethnic minorities.

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In addition to being white in a predominately Dominican neighborhood, my wife and I also have two adopted children. Both of them are ethnically different from us and from each other. We are quite a sight. And we’ve received our fair share of stares in the last several months—not just in the Heights. But the one place we feel totally normal is at church.

We worship in a new church called Christian Community Church of the Heights. Our service is bilingual—with music and announcements in both Spanish and English and a sermon delivered in English and translated live for Spanish speakers. The congregation is majority Latino but very diverse. In fact, the congregation reflects the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood (60-something percent Latino and 40 percent “other”). There are as many or more trans-racial couples as same-race couples.

Being surrounded by diverse families is a gift in itself, for a family like ours. We’ve received several other gifts by worshipping in a multiethnic urban church. Here are a few, presented as lessons learned. I’ve learned, for example:

Hips can be used in worship.

I’ve raised my hands in worship. I’ve bent my knees in worship. Doggone it, I’ve even clapped and swayed. But never before have my hips been tempted to involve themselves in worship. And it shows: they are very bad at it.

There’s a serious point in here somewhere. Style of worship is more than a matter of taste. Different musical forms open different possibilities, even theological possibilities. For example, I’ve sung the song “Blessed Be Your Name” in many churches in the last fifteen years. In all of them, the tone of that song has varied from reflective, even repentant, to triumphant. But when I sing it over a Caribbean bass line and rhythm section, a new possibility opens up. The song becomes positively celebratory.

In this case, musical style is a reflection of deep values and cultural personality. Our Dominican brothers and sisters know how to party, and they know how to bring that party to church. I never thought I could sing, “You give and take away” with a smile on my face. The fact that I can do it now is a gift from my diverse congregation.

*This article will continue in the next post.

8 Ways to Wreck a Marriage

Yesterday my wife and I celebrated our 18th wedding Anniversary. Outside my salvation and sanctification, Emily has probably been God’s most extravagant gift to me through the years. We have shared tears and many laughs. And we love each other more today than even on our wedding day – way more, in fact!

Several years ago, I read an article from Dave Willis (LINK:) on how to wreck a marriage.  Pick your jaw up off the floor; his purpose in writing about how relationships are destroyed was to help his readers AVOID such devastation.  So, in that spirit, and as my wife and I celebrate our wedding anniversary, I somewhat ironically share Dave Willis’ Eight Ways to Wreck a Marriage.

As I’ve interacted with couples from all over the world, I’ve discovered most marriage problems can be traced back to a few deadly (but also very common) mistakes. Here’s a list of some of the most common marriage-killing behaviors. Avoid these at all costs and you’ll be taking a big step towards building a divorce-proof marriage!

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  1. Stop communicating with your spouse.

Communication does for a marriage what breathing does for lungs. Communication is the lifeline of any relationship, so if you stop communicating with your spouse, you’re choosing to starve your marriage of one of its most basic needs.

  1. Confide in a “friend” of the opposite sex.

One of the most common patterns I’ve seen among divorcing couples is that one of the spouses develops an attachment with someone of the opposite sex for emotional support instead of looking to their spouse for that support. The moment you allow someone else to take your spouse’s place in your mind, your heart or your bed, you’ve made a choice to wreck your marriage.

  1. Stop making love.

Sex is a God-given gift to bring fulfillment, intimacy and mutual bonding to a husband and wife. The moment you stop prioritizing what happens in the bedroom, your marriage might be headed for a courtroom.

  1. Belittle, nag or insult your spouse.

You should be your spouse’s biggest encourager, not their biggest critic! If your communication has taken on a consistently negative tone, then your marriage will quickly take on a negative tone as well.

  1. Keep secrets from your spouse.

Secrets in marriage are as dangerous as lies. If you start hiding money, conversations or anything else from your spouse, you’re choosing to sabotage your relationship.

  1. Blame your spouse for your problems.

Couples who make it are the ones who choose to work together to find solutions. Couples who don’t make it are the ones who blame each other instead of supporting each other.

  1. Surround yourself with people who don’t know or don’t like your spouse.

The wrong friends can wreck a marriage. If you surround yourself with people who support your marriage, your marriage will probably improve. If you surround yourself with people who don’t support your marriage, then you need some new friends.

  1. Give up.

The couples who make it aren’t the ones who never had a reason to get divorced, they are simply the ones who choose to find a way to make it work. They’ve discovered that a “perfect marriage” is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other!

Dejected…and Rejoicing

By Scott Armstrong

As many in the Nazarene world and beyond are aware, a week ago a Boeing 737 airliner with more than 110 passengers and crew crashed Friday near Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, shortly after takeoff. The plane, Cubana Flight 972, was on its way to Holguín, Cuba, when it went down about 12 p.m. local time.

On board the aircraft, 10 couples from the East District were on their way back to their home Province of Holguín after being part of a National Conference for pastors from the Church of the Nazarene. In the days after, expressions of grief and solidarity were expressed from the General Superintendents and brothers and sisters around the globe. On May 21, Dr. Carla Sunberg dedicated her message at the Global Ministry Center’s chapel service to the couples who were killed and the family members and Cuban leaders who are picking up the pieces after this tragedy.

In the Dominican Republic the missionaries and National Office leadership met, as we do every week, for devotions and prayer.  This time the mood was somber.  We knew the right theology: God is sovereign.  He has a plan.  He offers eternal life to those who die in Him.  However, the questions remained: why did this happen? Why didn’t God stop this? What about the ten orphaned children who are now weeping and will not see their parents on this side of heaven?

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In the midst of such struggle, the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries’ Coordinator for the Central Field (Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Puerto Rico), Paquita Bidó, began to read from Psalm 100.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Worshipping with gladness? Joyful songs? Thanksgiving and praise? Clearly, this is not a lament Psalm!

Paquita acknowledged that we mourn with our Cuban family, and we recognize our bewilderment.  We must not explain away this devastating loss with trite words of affirmation or theological maxims.  At the same time, she explained that she brought this psalm to us as an expression of faith in the very midst of sorrow.  The Lord is God; we are not.  He is Creator, and we are his creation.  As sheep, we enjoy the care of the Shepherd and obey his voice.  What a privilege to serve him for as long as he gives us breath.

Paquita continued.  If we proclaim that God is faithful only in the good times, then what good is that? Our trust would be based merely on circumstances going our way and not on a loving Father who allows pain in our lives because he knows best.  However, we do, in fact, declare that He is good, and His love endures forever, even in – or especially in – this bitter reality confronting us.  And his faithfulness is promised not only to us, but it continues through all generations.

In the light of this reality, and even in the midst of sadness, we shout for joy!  Our tears co-mingle with thanks and praise.  God is good.  Still. Even now.

Our entire region is devastated. We have mobilized to give and pray for Cuba.  And as we weep, we also rejoice that we serve a good and faithful God.  Yes, his love endures forever.

Loss Felt by Global Family: BGS Statement on Cuba Tragedy

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The Board of General Superintendents, Church of the Nazarene, extends its heartfelt love, passionate prayers, and deepest condolences to the families of all affected by the Friday, May 18 plane crash in Havana, Cuba.

It was with heavy hearts we learned that 10 Nazarene pastoral couples were among the 100-plus people who lost their lives in this tragedy. They had just completed a national conference for the Cuba Nazarene Church.

“Sharon and I had the privilege of being at the Cuba East District Assembly in January,” said David W. Graves, jurisdictional general superintendent for the denomination’s Mesoamerica Region. “We were touched by their love and passion for Jesus and the Church of the Nazarene. Our hearts are heavy for the families, churches, and the district, and the loss is personally felt by our global family.”

We are comforted by the report from Rev. López, president of the Church of the Nazarene in Cuba, who said the couples were singing, praying, and testifying on their way to the airport. The promise of the resurrection assures us that we will be reunited in praising and worshiping God together.

We grieve with the families of those who lost their loved ones. We also grieve with Regional Director Rev. Carlos Sáenz, Rev. Leonel López, and East District Superintendent Rev. Luis Batista during this time. May the Lord carry the children of these mothers and fathers, surrounding them with His all-embracing peace and love that transcends our understanding.

To Nazarenes around the world, please continue to join us in prayer for all affected by this tragic loss. We embrace Christ’s mandate to console the grieving and care for the widows and orphans.

To Cuban Nazarenes, East District churches, and all hurting in that nation today, we love you. You are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ. We mourn with you, hurt with you, pray for you, and will continue to lift you up in prayer in the days, months, and years ahead.

Our prayer is that God’s peace will guard your hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7). May you hold on to the reality that God, our “Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). Our prayer is for the peace of Christ to be with the people of Cuba during this time of grief and pain.

We are grateful for and we remember their consecrated lives:

  • Mirza Rodríguez Rondón & Juan Luis Vega Velázquez
  • Luis Manuel Rojas Pérez & Maricela Peña
  • Norma Suárez Niles & Jesús Manuel García Oberto
  • María Virgen Filandez Rojas & Rafael Vega Velázquez
  • Ronni Alain Pupo Pupo & Yurisel Milagros Miranda Mulet (Nazarene Missions International district president)
  • Eloy Ortiz Abad & Elva María Mosqueda Legrá
  • Juan Carlos Nogueras Leyva & Noelbis Hernández Guerrero
  • Gelover Martín Pérez Avalo & Yoneisi Cordovez Rodríguez (pastor and district treasurer)
  • Manuel David Aguilar Saavedra & María Salomé Sánchez Arévalo (district secretary)
  • Grisell Filandes Clark & Lorenzo Boch Bring

This article was originally published at: nazarene.org