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.  

The Dual Dangers of Legalism and “Traditionalism”

Our Mesoamerica Genesis office is working diligently on assisting churches that exist in large urban areas to become healthy and missional.  One of the first steps in doing so is to take a church health survey in order to discover strengths and weaknesses.  It’s a brave task to undergo actually.  No one wants to find out they are sick, or even worse, dying.

One of the biggest reasons we have found for lack of health in congregations is a combination of legalism and worship of tradition.  Having order and obeying the laws of God are quite important to be sure.  But if we allow our adherence to rule-following to get in the way of mission and loving the world around us, we’ve missed the mark. Tradition is a wonderful thing, and celebrating our rich heritage is a must as Christians.  But if we think the methods from decades ago are holy in and of themselves, we are in dangerous territory.

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Jean David Larochelle’s book in Spanish, A Natural Development of Faith, has much to say about legalism and “traditionalism,” as he calls it:

“The message of the gospel is not negotiable. We do not doubt it. Every principle is eternal.  Every principle is immutable.  Every principle is spiritual and every principle is divine.  But strategies are not principles or doctrines. Neither are they eternal.  I say again, one of the greatest sins of the church is to try to win a postmodern generation with primitive strategies.”

The Good News is not good if it is not understandable. When we do not update our methods for different generations or cultures, we can be almost certain they will not understand them, let alone respond positively.  Grace is diluted by the importance we place on rules and tradition.

“Doctrinally, legalism and traditionalism can become positions essentially opposed to grace . . . God has given freedom to his church, but many continue tying it to legalism and traditionalism.”

In reference to the Pharisees in John 9 who questioned the blind man who received his sight, Larochelle continues, “It is sad to note that, for them, the day of rest had been given priority over the person. Things, interests and laws were a priority over the human person.  Nevertheless, Jesus also made them see that he was opposed to the foolish traditions and legalism they had invented in respect to the day of rest . . . They did not rejoice with the man. They saw humanity through eyes of judgment.”

In closing, the author invites us to evaluate ourselves. “Consider if you have legalistic, rigid attitudes or thoughts towards others or towards yourself.  In the story we are analyzing, which role would you like to take – that of the Pharisees or of Jesus? Which role have you played? Which would you like to play from now on?

These are essential questions for the whole church and for each Christian who desires to reflect the love of Christ in their society.