How Can I Be Sure?

By Scott Armstrong

We have made our way out of Advent and are now officially in the season of Christmas (that’s right: according to the Christian calendar Christmas is just beginning!).  Our Savior has been born in Bethlehem! What greater joy is there than that?!

Since early December many passages have proven meaningful in my times of devotions and preaching and reflection.  However, there is one odd phrase that keeps resonating in my mind and heart that at first seems to have little to do with Advent or the Christmas story:

“How can I be sure?” (Luke 1:18).

Maybe a little context will help.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are closer to retirement than they would like, and they have all but given up hope of having a baby.  In spite of their unmatched integrity (v. 6), they have remained barren, and the comments of their neighbors and so-called friends have made even them wonder if there is something wrong with them spiritually.  They have prayed and wept and trusted in God time and again only to be disappointed month after month and year after year.  Serving God is still their unwavering commitment, but it used to be their passion and joy.

Why not for us, Lord? Why for everyone else?

A priest (this time, Zechariah) is selected to enter the inner temple and burn incense to the Lord.  Worshipers are outside.  This happens every year.

Except this year the ritual doesn’t go as planned.  An angel appears and almost gives old Zechariah a heart attack.  And his message was more astonishing than his appearance: “Don’t fear.   Your prayer has been heard.  You’ll have a son.  Give him the name John.”

All of Zechariah’s peers were already grandpas, some great-grandpas.  Now he is supposed to believe he will be a first-time dad?! It’s more than any of us could have handled.

And that’s when we hear his gasping, faltering response to the angel:

How. Can. I. Be. Sure.

There was no one more upright in Israel than Zechariah.  No one else had access to the very presence of God like he did (literally, this year).  And for decades no one had had more faith than Zechariah.  And yet the question stammers off his lips in disbelief.  It’s haunting, really.

It’s one thing to believe God is able to do the impossible.  But it’s another thing to believe he will do it.

And it’s one thing to believe God will do the impossible in someone else’s life.  But it’s another thing to know he will break in in the midst of your impossibility.

“I hear your voice, Lord.  I understand the message.  It’s just that, deep-down, I have to be honest: how can I be absolutely certain that you will come through?”

The best cure for a lack of faith that betrays us in moments like these is often silence.  Well, geriatric Zechariah got a heavy dose of that.  During his wife’s pregnancy, he could write down messages, but not everyone could read at that time.  He got pretty decent at charades, but most people lost patience with him or just started laughing at his hand signals.  So he ended up having a whole lot of time to just listen.

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And in those nine months of forced silence, he heard God’s voice clearer than he had ever heard it before.

“Elizabeth has morning sickness. Or did you think it was the bread and figs she ate?”

“Her belly’s growing, Zechariah.  I can tell you’re starting to believe after all…”

“Feel that kick? Haha! This baby will be a world-changer for sure!”

Until, finally…

“Zechariah, this is it!  The baby’s ready!  Elizabeth is pushing.  Are you sure now?”

Listening, listening, listening.

And on the eighth day after the birth, when he scurried to write on the tablet: HIS NAME IS JOHN, his faith had grown as big as the joy he had as he held that little boy.  His tongue was loosed and there was nothing else to do but to belt out praises to the God who had astonishingly done – and was still doing – the impossible.

Now he was sure of it.

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You Will not die Before you see Him

By Hiram Vega

Prophets, priests, kings and peasants – they all waited for the signs of the coming Messiah.

Their constant question was, “When will the Messiah come?” He was to be the Anointed One of God who would end the disgrace of the people of God.  Four hundred years had passed since the Prophet Malachi, and God had not spoken.

Well, he did continue to speak, but only to a few chosen people.  It seemed that one in particular, an enigma named Simeon, had a direct line to heaven.  How important of a person must he have been to have God himself share what was going to take place?  Humanly speaking, he was completely unimportant.  He was a common old man with an even more common name. He was unknown on earth, but known and respected in heaven.  His character was of the same caliber as Joseph and Mary’s.  The gospel tells us that he was an upright man.  Not only that, he was a sincere seeker of God. Heaven took note, and God poured his Holy Spirit out on him.  Did you think that the Holy Spirit first came at Pentecost?  God says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

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We know almost nothing about this elderly man except that the Holy Spirit confirmed to him that he would not die until he saw the Anointed One of the Lord.

Today Christians await the return of the Lord, and no one knows the day or the hour of his second coming.  But Simeon was waiting for his first coming.  When the moment arrived, the Holy Spirit guided him to the temple just in time to find a humble carpenter from Bethlehem and his wife presenting a newborn.  On earth there was no fanfare, no great chorus, no royal assembly to commemorate the moment.  Heaven gave this aged worshiper the privilege that kings and prophets longed for: he was the first to recognize the Messiah.

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 

People continue to live in darkness today. Millions have not experienced the salvation of our Lord.  God continues to speak to his Simeons—men and women who long to know God and to make him known.  Their hearts desire for more people to be saved, until the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 

 

Analysis and Interpretation of the Pastoral Role

By Rev. Ernesto Bathermy

As we analyzed and interpreted the images of a shepherd/pastor from the Old and New Testaments in the previous article, those texts shed light on our work and responsibilities as pastors:

  1. Feed the flock

When we speak of feeding the sheep, we refer to teaching and instructing the believers in the Word of God and in Christian doctrines.  The Lord himself affirms that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). This declaration shows us clearly that the Word of God is spiritual food for the soul of a believer.

The apostle Peter referenced the Word of God when he wrote to Christians of the diaspora, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (I Peter 2:2)

The writer of Hebrews also referred to the teaching of the Word as spiritual food for the believer. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

It is evident, then, that when the Bible speaks of the role of a pastor as the one who should feed the flock, it is referring to the pastor feeding the believers with the Word of God.

  1. Care for the flock

To care for the flock has a broader connotation than to simply feed them. Likewise, a pastor’s role is not only to feed the congregation with the Word of God, but also to care for them. Isaiah speaks of a shepherd that carries the lambs in his arms against his breast.  The lamb is one year old or less, so it is by definition young and inexperienced.  In the same way, a pastor should shepherd new believers and care for them with special attention.

Another aspect of caring for the flock is clear when the prophet writes that Jehovah will gently lead the newborn lambs.  It is a picture of the care that a pastor must have for the Lord’s flock.

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  1. Guide the flock

According to John 10:4, the shepherd rescues his sheep and later goes before them while they follow.  The shepherd guides his sheep not by staying behind them, but going ahead of them.  In the same way, the pastor guides the church by being an example to the flock. (I Peter 5:3)

  1. Restore the flock

As we saw in Ezekiel 34:4, there will be weak, sick and injured members of the flock.  At times they will stray and get lost.  The same happens in the church.  Some brothers and sisters are weak in the faith, and those are the ones the pastor must seek to strengthen.

Some believers, at any given moment, can become spiritually ill.  The pastor has the responsibility to aide in curing them. Other believers will wander, and the pastor must seek to guide them back to the correct path.

Though the pastor must care for the entire flock, some brothers and sisters require special attention.  The ones who are lost need to be helped to return to the fold.

Conclusion:

A study of both the Old and New Testaments shows that the Bible says the role of the pastor is to feed, care for, guide and restore the believers.  This understanding allows a pastor to develop his or her ministry with greater responsibility and awareness, but with less frustration about basing all “success” on tangible results.

*Rev. Ernesto Bathermy is the pastor of the Celestial Vision Church of the Nazarene in Los Alcarrizos, Dominican Republic. He is also the Dominican Republic Central District Superintendent and Rector of the Dominican Nazarene Seminary.

Update – Cuba and Nicaragua

The last month has been difficult for our Mesoamerica Region; however, we have seen God’s love and faithfulness. The following information is an update of what has happened in the last weeks in Cuba and Nicaragua, and we want to encourage you to keep praying for these countries.

CUBA

A group of ministers from the Mesoamerica Region Church of the Nazarene traveled to Cuba on May 23 to help after the terrible plane crash on May 18, in which 10 Nazarene pastoral couples died. The Regional Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Coordinator Dhariana Balbuena shared her experiences in Cuba.

In the middle of the loss that our brothers and sisters suffered because of the terrible air accident 3 weeks ago, in the middle of the pain and sadness that they are still experiencing, we give glory and thanks to God for the miracles that have occurred.

Before my eyes in the first days, along with the regional leadership team, I could feel the mercy of God through the life testimonies, like the one that was shared during the funeral of sister Maria Salome. She was a servant of God who, with her studies in civil engineering, could serve the Cuban people in many ways. Many people shared their appreciation for our sister Maria.

It was also marvelous to learn that 37 people gave their lives to Christ in the funeral services, and more in the other services that followed.

The mother of one of the pastors who passed away surrendered at the feet of Christ in the first service after the incident in the church that her son pastored.

We are very grateful for the solidarity from our brothers and sisters from the Mesoamerica Region and from the global church. Your prayers, offerings, and words of encouragement have been a great blessing to the children that were orphaned and to their families.

God is glorified even in the midst of pain and his love transcends affliction.

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NICARAGUA

The country of Nicaragua is in an ongoing crisis that began in April 2018, when protests sparked violence. 

According to human rights groups, more than 100 people have been killed, and thousands more are wounded or missing. The most affected cities are Masaya and Managua. Many have lost their jobs as businesses have shuttered, and dozens of roadblocks around the nation have paralyzed traffic.

In the midst of this unstable situation, local Nazarene churches have continued to meet for worship and prayer. Churches have reduced scheduled meeting times or are meeting in homes as a security precaution. Nazarene volunteers have also delivered food to 150 families in Masaya, where the protests have led to extreme food shortages. 

The Nazarene district office was forced to close on May 29. The district also had to cancel several Work & Witness trips that were scheduled for teams working on local church buildings, including a team from Costa Rica planning to work on the Nazarene seminary in Nicaragua.

Church leaders in Nicaragua are monitoring the activity of the protests to determine the best time to reopen.

“This situation brings us great pain,” says Rev. Maria Antonia Ponce, who serves as the Nazarene district superintendent in the area. “We ask that as the Body of Christ, we would unite in prayer for peace in Nicaragua.”

How You Can Help

Pray

Please pray for churches, families, and individuals affected by the recent violent outbreaks. Pray especially for those who have lost loved ones. Pray for those who cannot work or travel freely. Pray for those experiencing trauma, that they would sense God’s peace and presence. Pray for peace to come to the nation. Pray for church leaders and churches responding to the needs around them. To send a prayer or note of encouragement, go to ncm.org/pray.

Give

Churches and individuals around the world can provide support through the Mesoamerica Disaster Relief: Nicaragua Crisis Fund. Donations will be used to provide for immediate needs, including food and water. 

To send donations by mail: 

In the U.S., make checks payable to “General Treasurer” and send them to:

Global Treasury Services

Church of the Nazarene

P.O. Box 843116

Kansas City, MO 64184-3116

Be sure to put 132300 in the Memo area.

In Canada, make checks payable to “Church of the Nazarene Canada” and send them to:

Church of the Nazarene Canada

3657 Ponytrail Drive

Mississauga, ON L4X 1W5

Be sure to put 132300 in the Memo area.

For additional countries, please give through your local church or district, designating your gift to Mesoamerica Disaster Relief: Nicaragua Crisis.

–This information was originally published at: mesoamericaregion.orgnazarene.org and ncm.org.

 

 

 

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!

Hope in the Midst of Grief

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On May 21, 2018, 
General Superintendent Carla D. Sunberg delivered the message at the morning’s Global Ministry Center chapel service. The Nazarene pastor couples killed in Friday’s plane crash were honored as their names were read aloud, and Dr. Sunberg reminded us of the hope we have in Christ even in the midst of grief.

Praying for Cuba

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 Holguin, Cuba, when it went down about 12 p.m. local time.

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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.

It’s been confirmed that on the flight the following pastoral couples perished:

  1. Mirza Rodriguez Rondón and Juan Luis Vega Velazquez.
  2. Luis Manuel Rojas Perez and Maricela Peña.
  3. Norma Suarez Niles and Jesus Manuel Garcia Oberto.
  4. Maria Virgen Filandez Rojas and Rafael Vega Velazquez.
  5. Ronni Alain Pupo Pupo and Yurisel Milagros Miranda Mulet.
  6. Eloy Ortiz Abad and Elva Maria Mosqueda Legra.
  7. Juan Carlos Nogueras Leyva and Noelbis Hernandez Guerrero.
  8. Gelover Martin Perez Avalo and Yoneisi Cordovez Rodriguez.
  9. Manuel David Aguilar Saavedra and Maria Salome Sanchez Arevalo.
  10. Grisell Filandes Clark and Lorenzo Boch Bring.

As a result of this, 8 children (7 boys and 1 girl) and 2 adolescents were left without their parents, all between 7 and 15 years old.  Many adult children were left without their parents as well.

The president of the Church of the Nazarene in Cuba, Rev. Leonel J. Lopez said: “In this moment of anguish and pain, we ask for all your prayers and help to be able to get through this situation together.”

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in Mesoamerica Region invites you to be part of the response to the families that have been affected by the plane crash:

  • Praying.
  • Raising offerings in local churches on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

The offerings must be sent by each district to their field office; the field office will send the total received to the regional office for its proper use.

“May all the family of the Church of the Nazarene unite in prayer on behalf of our brothers and sisters,” Dr. Carlos Saenz, Regional Director, said.

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Flags are currently at half-mast across Cuba as part of a nation-wide two days of mourning.

Stay informed through the official regional website: mesoamericaregion.org, and the website of the Church of the Nazarene: nazarene.org; and also through Facebook and Twitter.

– Church of the Nazarene, Mesoamerica Communications.