Blameless? That’s Impossible!

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’” (Genesis 17:1-2)

By Emily Armstrong

God is renewing his covenant with Abraham that the promise of a great nation would come from Abraham and Sarah.  Verse 1 says that Abraham is 99 years old when God has this conversation with him.  I can only imagine that he was thinking, “OK, God, I’ll be a first time dad, but only with your help.”  As long as we are talking about doing the impossible, did we miss the small but significant phrase in verse 1 that says, “Walk before me and be blameless”? Again, Abraham has to be thinking, “OK, God, but only with your help.”

Does God really expect Abraham to be a dad at age 99? Yep.  Does God really expect Abraham to walk before him and be blameless? You bet.  And God expects the same from us.  Is it a fair expectation? Yes, but only because we have the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Holy Spirit helps us to make the right choices, and helps us continually walk before God and be blameless.  It’s not to say that the Holy Spirit makes our decisions for us, but he’s continually guiding us in the correct paths, if we allow him to.

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I remember when I was in college that I really started struggling with the concept of being blameless.  I had been a Christian since I was a little girl, but the Holy Spirit started speaking to me about the kind of music that I listened to.  It wasn’t BAD music, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  I had to really wrestle with the Lord and see if what I was listening to was helping my relationship grow stronger with Him.  I’m sure you aren’t surprised to learn that I realized that the Holy Spirit was right, and I made some changes in my music.  It was hard, and it was a process, but I know that it’s helped me even to this day to walk blamelessly before God.

So, are you up to it?  Have you been feeling like the Holy Spirit’s been talking to you about some of the habits that you have that are keeping you from walking blamelessly before God?  If so, then start evaluating the changes that you need to make, and start making them. You’ll soon learn like I did, that walking blamelessly is possible, with God’s help.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

 

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Tear Down Every Barrier!

By Luz Jimenez Avendaño

“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  When they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13:1-3 

The Christian church was mature enough to make the biggest of decisions.  They agreed, after deliberation, to take the message of the gospel to the entire world. It was a decision they made under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The men of the early church did not follow their own will, but rather the will of God.

In Acts 13:1-3, the scripture talks about prophets and teachers. These two groups served different functions. The prophets did not belong to a single congregation.  They were itinerant preachers who gave their lives to hear the Word of God and share it with their brothers in the faith. The teachers belonged to an individual local church and their job was to instruct those who had accepted the Christian faith.

This list of prophets symbolizes the universal call of the gospel. Barnabus was a Jew from Cyprus, and Lucius was from Cyrene in North Africa. Simeon was also a Jew, but the passage gives a second name: Niger. Niger is a Roman name meaning black, which indicates that he would have moved in Roman circles. Manean was a man with connections to the aristocracy and at court. Paul himself was a Jewish rabbi from Tarsus in Cilicia. This group is an example of the unifying influence of Christianity.  Men from different lands and with different backgrounds had all discovered the secret of serving together. They discovered unity in Christ.

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God calls all believers to proclaim his word around the world. We are all called to share the good news of salvation. There is much to tell. Nevertheless, our prejudice towards a culture different than our own, along with customs, traditions, legalism and vain excuses, creates a problem.  Anything that inhibits the call of the Lord serves as a barrier to us obeying His command to “go.”

The truth is that we are believers, and in response to a heavenly call, we must share the marvelous love of God so that others can know him. These men accepted the call of the Lord. They were from different cultures, but they joined together in a single team to accomplish a single goal: to preach the message to those who were dead in their sins and needed to be saved.

Now is the time to break down every barrier and preach the good news!

*Luz Jimenez has served for five years as a volunteer missionary.  She is currently serving as the Global Missions and Genesis Coordinator in the Mesoamerica North Central Field, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

There’s an app for that! Well, maybe not…

By Scott Armstrong

I use apps on my smartphone several hours a day.  You probably do, too.

Twitter? Fantasy Football? Tracking your steps every day? Yes, there are mobile phone apps for all of those.

But you already knew that.  Did you know there’s an app for virtually shaving yourself? What about milking a cow? Or that there’s even an app for nothing? That’s right.  It literally does nothing.  The screen goes gray…………and does nothing.

Make sure you download it today.

There seems to be an app for everything.  There are millions of apps for things I truly have never thought of in my life.

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But as far as ministry goes, there are still areas that apps have not touched.

Giving me 26 hours a day instead of 24? There’s not an app for that.

Helping me to fit in seamlessly in a new culture within 1 week? No app for that.

Getting my neighbor down the street to respond to the gospel and see his life changed? Nope.

Many apps help you save time.  But they don’t give you more time.  Time is the great equalizer.

Some apps help you to learn a language or discover more about a culture or country. But the hard work of spending time with real people and eating their food and beginning to love them for who they are with no selfish or ethnocentric motives? That can’t be microwaved.

I’ve explored lots of apps that provide ways to share the gospel, but no app exists that guarantees life transformation.

The idea of apps is usually to make life easier.  They might help us get work done, interact with others, or have fun. Apps are handy ways to directly assist us in some way and streamline sometimes complicated daily processes.

But ministry just isn’t like that.  Honestly, it drives me crazy.

Recently I was lamenting to my wife that the local church we planted in Dominican Republic just isn’t advancing like I want it to.  Supposedly we are equipped, capable ministers who have been effective in many different places and ministries.  We have not just gone to the training seminars on how to impact the city; we now GIVE the training seminars! What, then, is the problem?! Why aren’t all the neighbors we love and care for flocking to service every week? Why do new Christians take two steps forward and seemingly three steps back in their walk with Christ?!  On a less spiritual level, why are our accounts always so low and why does the stupid bathroom outside our sanctuary keep malfunctioning?!  Aaaargh!

Much of our lives are dominated by apps that help us do things quicker, cheaper, and more efficiently.  But almost always ministry – genuine, roll-up-your-sleeves, incarnational ministry – isn’t like that.

I would love for there to be shortcuts.  But no app exists for this stuff.  The Holy Spirit needs to do a deep work in people’s lives, finances, and even bathrooms.

Lord, quick or slow, app or no app, begin that work in us.

Salt of the Earth

By Charles W. Christian

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” — Matthew 5:13

Salt has, in some ways, developed a bad reputation these days. It can cause high blood pressure and heart issues when it is over used. Part of the reason salt has developed its reputation is that it is so accessible. That has not always been the case, of course. In ancient times, salt was relatively rare. Salt that could be used for consumption was even rarer.

In ancient times, salt could be a method of payment, and until the invention of canning and refrigeration, salt was the main way in which food was preserved for storage. While the overuse of salt can have ill effects on health, salt is an essential mineral for human life.

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Jesus calls His followers the “salt of the earth.”

This means we are God’s agents of preservation and health for this world. That is a big calling! God actually wishes to use us to help keep the world from rotting. We are agents that prevent the decay of our world by sharing the good news of God’s love and grace. When we choose not to participate in God’s agenda for us and for our world, we “lose our saltiness” and can actually become part of the problem.

As Nazarenes, we define holiness as both an individual experience and as an ongoing experience of participating with all of God’s people in the furthering of God’s ways in the world. In other words, there is both an individual and a social component to holiness.

Individually, we are transformed by God so that together we may be the “salt of the earth.” May we look for Spirit-led ways to be agents of God’s transforming love in the world this week and always.

Prayer for the Week:

Lord, we are Yours. As we surrender to You, may you move us from the ways of darkness to the ways of light. In so doing, may we become your instruments of peace, love, and preservation in the world, so that others can be prepared to receive your Holy Spirit and walk with us in the eternal glory of Your presence. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

*Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.

This article was originally published at Holiness Today.

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. 

 

Living Stones

By Ken Mitchell

The tour guide introduced herself at the entrance to Linville Caverns and immediately warned us not to touch any of the stones inside. She explained that these were living stones and that the acid from the human touch would cause them to stop growing.

It was Saturday afternoon and Janet and I and our two grandsons were on our annual outing. This year we had been gem mining and now were about to explore the inside of the mountain in Linville, North Carolina. I found the warning interesting, but the concept of living stones didn’t catch my full attention until the following Tuesday morning when I read 1 Peter 2. As I read verses 4 and 5, I was reminded of our Saturday tour. “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

I realized that if I am to be a living stone, I should know what a living stone is.

The Holy Spirit took me back to the tour guide. She had indicated that the stones were living because they were growing. As the mineral laden water flows over them it deposits additional minerals. These additional deposits cause slow growth. I believe she said they grow approximately 1 cubic inch every 100 years. This is slow growth to be sure, but it is growth. She defined “living stones” as “growing stones.”

We too must be growing stones if we are to meet the definition of living stones in 1 Peter 2:5.

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The stones in Linville Caverns are nourished by constantly flowing mineral water. I asked myself, How must I be nourished in order to grow and be a living stone?

I found the answer in verse 2: “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (NKJV). I was reminded of Elizabeth, our 7-month-old granddaughter. When she desires milk, everyone nearby knows about it. She will not calm down until her hunger is satisfied. What would happen if we fed Elizabeth only once a week on Sunday morning? Or 3 times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening? This would obviously not work. First, she would not give us any rest as she expressed her desire for milk, and second, she would not grow.

Is my “desire [for] the pure milk of the word” as strong as Elizabeth’s desire for milk for her stomach? Does my soul cry out for nourishment? This is a challenge to me. Elizabeth cannot feed herself or control her feeding times, but I can. As a mature adult I feed my physical body three times daily. How can I do less for my spiritual self? Thank you Lord for showing me how to become a “living stone”. May others read this and be challenged to, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that [they] may grow thereby.”

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

3 Ways to Become the Godly Elders/Mentors Today’s Youth Need – and Want to Follow

By Karl Vaters

The best way to help foster the Fruit of the Spirit in others is not by demanding it of them, but by living it out with them.

This generation wants to honor its elders and be mentored by them.

That may not feel like it’s true – especially if you, like me, are old enough to qualify for senior citizen membership. But I assure you it is.

I know this because I see it all the time. Youth, both in and outside the church walls are looking for genuine relationships with their elders.

They want to learn, connect and grow. They want to be mentored and discipled.

No, not all of them. Most of us didn’t consciously want that when we were their age, either. But in my experience, more of today’s youth want godly older men and women in their lives than we did when we were their age.

Becoming The Elders They Need Us To Be

A couple weeks ago, I wrote, Hey, Boomers! Let’s Step Up And Be The Elders The Church Desperately Needs Right Now, and got a lot of feedback – most of it very encouraging.

But there was some pushback as well. All of the criticism expressed the same viewpoint: today’s youth may need to have elders in their lives, but it’s impossible to find any who are truly willing to be discipled.

So why is there such a difference in the experiences some older believers have with younger ones? And how can we do this better?

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I think it comes down to three primary factors, all of which have more to do with how we, as elders, approach our role than how the youth behave or how they feel.

1. Meet Them Where They Are

Elders need to be willing to meet today’s youth on their turf instead of demanding that they come to ours.

Start by serving, not demanding.

Living and walking along with them, not just talking at them.

This means listening before speaking. Really hearing what they are going through.

When we do that, we’ll discover that they have three types of challenges.

First, they have challenges that are obviously universal. How to negotiate relationships and make wise decisions for instance. On those, we can offer wisdom from our own experience in Christ.

Second, they will express ideas and desires that will seem strange at first (like their choice of entertainment or wanting tattoos), but the more we listen, the more we’ll find common ground. Underneath most of those choices is a desire to both fit in and stand out. When we were younger we felt the same confusion, but expressed it in different ways. (Remember how our parents reacted to our hairstyles and choice of music?) In those situations, we can share wisdom from our common underlying needs, even if we don’t share their tastes.

Finally, there are the challenges they face that truly are different from anything we had to face. For instance, it’s likely that our kids’ and grandkids’ generation will, for the first time in our nation’s history, make less money than their parents did. They’re also facing a culture that is increasingly indifferent, even hostile to a Christian witness. None of that is their fault, but they have to live in the fallout of it. In such situations, the greatest gift we may have for them won’t be good advice, but a listening, sympathetic ear and prayerful, loving friendship.

To become the effective elders the next generation needs, we must have a similar approach as missionaries do when they go in to a culture that is new, and therefore feels strange and sometimes scary to us. In such situations, humility goes a long way. We have to listen and learn before we will have anything to teach.

2. Be Worth Listening To

We need to behave like elders worthy of honor. Living lives that people want to emulate. Following Jesus with such joy, passion and hopefulness that others can’t help but be drawn to him.

If you have a hard time finding young people who want to be mentored, seriously ask yourself this question. Are you behaving in a way that is worthy of being honored? Are you truly setting an example to follow? Not just in (self)righteous behavior, but in selfless generosity and humble teachability.

No one wants to listen to an old crank with a “what’s wrong with youth today?” mentality or a “when I was your age we knew how to respect our elders” attitude.

As elders, it is not our job to convict of sin or correct their behavior. That’s Jesus’ job. And he does it very well.

It’s our job to love them. To lead by example as we live a life of humility, holiness, patience and joy.

Certainly there will be moments of correction. But we have to earn the right to do that by showing ourselves to be trustworthy first.

The best way to help foster the Fruit of the Spirit in others is not by demanding it of them, but by living it out with them.

3. Help Them Be Like Jesus, Not Like Us

The goal of an elder or a Christian mentor is not to help the next generation become more like us. It’s to help them become more like Jesus. The only way we can do that is becoming more Christlike ourselves.

The current and coming generations don’t want to do church the way we did it. This is a good thing.

Becoming like your elders isn’t discipleship, it’s mimicry. Repeating their habits and behaviors isn’t growth, it’s going through the motions.

When elders become more like Jesus, we show those coming behind us how to do it too.

When elders become more like Jesus, we show those coming behind us how to do it too. Then, when they become more like Jesus, they’ll challenge us to keep growing even more. Each serving and blessing the other in an upward cycle of faith.

A servant will always become like their master. But an elder isn’t a master. An elder follows the Master, and helps others follow him, too.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today