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?

cropped-cropped-neil1.png

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?

jesus-christ-teaching_958533_inl.jpg

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?

Run to Him

By Scott Armstrong

“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me” (Psalm 31:1-2 NIVUK).

(Read Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24)

A while back Chevrolet trucks had a catchy slogan.  They would show some huge 4×4 pickup sliding through mud or towing a trailer three times its size.  Then the song would come on and some guy with a gruff voice would say, “Chevy: Like a Rock.”

Why’d they choose that slogan? Obviously, a rock invokes an image of strength and toughness. So do the words “refuge” and “fortress,” which (along with “rock”) are used several times in the verses we just read. We know that every psalm is a prayer, and this one is no different. David apparently is trying to paint a picture of his God as something more than a flower blown by the wind.

IMG_1201.jpg

We don’t know exactly what David was going through when he prayed this prayer.  But his words are powerful: “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge…Be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me” (vv. 1-2).  When David can’t depend on anyone else, he can depend on his God, who is steady, unwavering.  Who can he run to when it seems like the world is running after him? His Lord, of course.

We’ve been in situations like that before, right? Situations where we needed the one constant, the tower, the fortress that we can run to and be safe.  I am writing this right now miles away from you. Just as I don’t know what David was going through, I have no idea what you are going through today.  But hear this: God is your refuge.  HE will not let you down.  HE is a safe place.

Read these verses again slowly.  Pray them this time; pray the same prayer that David prayed 3 millennia ago.  And, most importantly, believe the words you’re saying.  They have always proven true.

Everywhere, With Everyone, All The Time

By Scott Armstrong

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 11:18-19).

(Read Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28)

As a missionary—and sports fan—who lived in Guatemala several years ago, I discovered that Guatemala hasn’t really found out that there are many other sports outside of soccer.  They love their soccer, and players for the national team are heroes after a big win.  After an especially big victory over Costa Rica, I listened to the commentator on the radio excitedly praise the player who had scored both goals.  I can still hear him encourage the listeners in Spanish to “Bring Juan Carlos Plata into your home!  He deserves a place in the kitchen!  In the living room!  Talk about him in the morning, afternoon, and night!  Tell your kids what he just did for Guatemala!” 

Although that seems a little bit ridiculous, our verses for today point us in a similar direction.  This time, however, it is God’s Word that we should think about and talk about during the day.  His words and commands should be “fixed in our hearts and minds,” talked about “when you lie down and when you get up.”  Both parents and kids should live and breathe his Word 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  We should all be familiar with what he did for us and how his Word instructs us in our daily life.

Does this mean we can’t talk about anything else but the Bible? Are we just supposed to walk around high school and chant memory verses? Of course not.  But it does mean that we’re not just getting into God’s Word every day; it’s getting into you.  Sometimes we hurry through our two minutes of devotions and ten minutes later can’t remember what we read.  According to today’s passage, that is pretty far from what God wants for our lives!

60217_1.jpg

Is God’s Word in you or are you barely getting into God’s word each day? Is it a part of you or is it the essence of who you are? With all of the pressures of being a teen, it might be hard to imagine yourself just soaking his word in like a sponge soaks in water.  But it will make a world of difference.  When Jesus experienced the toughest of times, God’s Word was so much inside him that he oozed Scripture (Luke 4:1-13).  What would happen if you took with you today the verses you just read and carried them in your mind and heart throughout all of the activities, stresses, and temptations of the next 24 hours? It might just change your attitudes, conversations, and the way you react to tough situations.  Why don’t we find out? Read those verses again and ask God to help put them under your skin and into your heart and life today.

Developing Relationships

By David W. Graves

The need to belong is perhaps the most powerful emotional need experienced in modern times. Society continues to fragment, families disintegrate, and technology isolates until the opportunities to truly belong become more and more limited.

But the need to belong has not diminished. Today, individuals are seeking those places where they can belong, and then giving themselves fully to the relationships they find. It is by targeting inclusion that our church can establish its ministry. By becoming a place of belonging, the local church opens itself up to ever-broadening opportunities to proclaim its message – a message of love and belonging in the family of God. However, the big question is: “How does the church establish this kind of ministry?”

Fotolia_66219358_XXL.jpg

It begins by regularly initiating and developing relationships with unchurched people. We need to ask ourselves “How many unchurched people do we have a personal relationship with?”

I can already tell you that most of us who have been in the church for a long time would have to answer “none.” It seems that the longer we are Christ-followers the more disconnected we get with those who are not – and that is a real problem. The same is true for many pastors. 

We cannot possibly hope to reach people for Christ if we are not developing a friendship with them. If I don’t have any non-Christian friends, how can I tell anyone about Christ? 

This is the biggest detriment to fulfilling the Great Commission that we have today – we don’t know any non-Christians well enough to share the gospel with them. Jesus went out of His way – and we must go out of our way – to build real friendships with people outside of the church.

By building relationships with people, Jesus can use us to change their lives.

News Flash: Noah Saved by The Grace of God

By Scott Armstrong

“God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Genesis 6:12).

(Read Genesis 6:9-22)

I always wondered why the story of Noah was a kids’ story.  Isn’t this about the judgment and wrath of God? While Noah and his family are cooped up as temporary zookeepers, the heavens are opened, the waters start to rise from the earth, and everybody else drowns.  Can you imagine how terrifying that would be if we told little Billy all the details? I guess it’s the animals.

But that’s not the only thing that strikes me as strange in this story.  We have to acknowledge that God is ticked off here.  He’s grieved, and his heart is filled with pain (v.6).  The wickedness was so bad that this same “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love…” (Ps. 86:15) puts his fist down and shouts, “Enough!”

Here’s the weird part: in the midst of sharing with Noah his plans to destroy humanity, he stops and gives detailed instructions about the boat Noah is supposed to build.  “I want three decks on this baby, Noah, and you have to use a certain type of wood….”  And then after specifying how Noah is supposed to gather his family and all the animals, the same God who is absolutely furious…waits.  Most scholars agree that it took Noah 120 years to build this massive ocean liner.  Why didn’t God just wipe everyone out when his anger was boiling? Or why didn’t he just tell Noah, “Build an ark, Noah; I’m sick of this”?

noahs-ark.jpg

The answer is the key to the story.  Even in his anger, God can’t not be gracious.  He loves his creation.  The very essence of his character is love.  So he takes the time to stop and tell the one guy who’s living a holy life what he needs to do to save mankind.  Isn’t that awesome? That means, as God’s children, we do not have to serve him out of fear, but are free to serve him out of love.  We can obey him, like Noah did, simply because we truly love him.  Are you at that point in your life?

Remember: even in judgment there’s grace.  Even in wrath there’s love.  And even a child’s story can teach us that.

 

Be Still and Know

By Scott Armstrong

“Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shield  with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth’” (Psalm 46:8-10).

(Read Psalm 46)

Like many of the other psalms, Psalm 46 was written as a song and around 3,000 years ago was sung by an enormous choir.  It is pretty hard to determine how this original song sounded, but many of today’s musicians have written their own interpretations of the incredible lyrics recorded here.  A lot of them have focused on the images of nature and war in these verses.  While singing these lyrics as the guitars and drums play on at a feverish pitch, I can almost feel the earth giving way and mountains quaking and falling into the sea (vv.2-3).

But in the midst of the chaos of this psalm, one verse seems to be misplaced.  “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (v.10).  How did that get in there? How can we be still when there are wars around us and the earth is giving way under our feet?

SILUETA DE PERSONA ORANDO.jpgYou may remember an older chorus that comes from this verse, “Be Still and Know That I am God.”  I have sung that song hundreds of times, but I will always remember singing it in one particular worship service.  I remember the song because of who was singing it and when she was singing it.  Stephanie, a girl in our youth group, had just found out a month earlier her parents were getting a divorce.  She had also experienced some serious health problems in the past year, not to mention the homework and tests she had to make up at school after missing several classes because of her time at the hospital.

I looked over while many of us in the congregation sang the chorus out of ritual.  There she was in the second row, standing with her arms raised.  And in spite of all she was going through—or maybe because of all that—she was singing with tears streaming down her face, “Be still and know that I am God…”

Psalm 46:10 has never quite been the same for me since.  What mountains are quaking in your life today? What kingdoms have been falling around you? I hope that in the midst of the chaos and turmoil around you, you can proclaim like Stephanie and like millions of Christians down through the ages, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”