I am not Ashamed

By Scott Armstrong

“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord.” There it is, in black and white in verse 8 of the first chapter of 2 Timothy.  No getting away from it; testifying about what Jesus is doing in our lives is the expectation.  It’s what Christian’s do.  So, why is doing it so hard?

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I’ve been a missionary in various countries for the last sixteen years, and I’ve realized over that period of time that I, too, fell into the category of being “afraid” to share with non-believers what Jesus was doing in my life.  As a missionary, it’s part of my job description to be ready at all times to share Jesus Christ with whoever I might meet.  But amazingly enough that was part of my job description before I became a missionary, as well.  It is something that I should have been doing on a daily basis since the day that I became a Christian.

Maybe you’re thinking that you’re not experienced enough. What would you say anyway? Well, is God working in your life? Have you seen his healing hand, or his hand of protection, or his hand of mercy? Those are stories that you can share – nobody can say that they didn’t happen.  They might not believe that GOD was the reason that they resolved, but it shouldn’t stop you from sharing them.  Every time that you share about the greatness of God, a seed has been planted.

So, are you ready to start sharing what God is doing in your life with your friends? Don’t be ashamed to testify about how awesome our God is.  In fact, once you start doing it, you’ll find that it becomes easier.  Just like anything else, practice makes perfect.

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

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Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:4-9)

By Emily Armstrong

God is calling Jeremiah to be a prophet, and he calls him pretty clearly.  Even after knowing EXACTLY what God wants him to do, Jeremiah still says, “I do not know how to speak”– he starts offering excuses as to why he can’t do what God has called him to do.  God seems to take it in stride and tells him not to worry; he would be with Jeremiah and even goes as far as putting the words in his mouth!  I don’t know about you, but it seems like Jeremiah doesn’t have many excuses left!

Do you ever feel that way?  That you sincerely ask God what he wants you to do with your day, your week, your life, and the answer that he gives you seems impossible?  When we ask God something, are we really ready to hear what he has to say to us?

When my son was little, he would like to give me 2 options to choose between, like “Mom, do you want this yellow block or this blue block?” After I had chosen what color I wanted, he would look at me and tell me if I chose the right one.  It never was my choice at all, and he really didn’t want to know what I wanted.  He knew all along that he was going to give me the yellow block, whether I chose it or not.

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I think we often approach God that way.  “OK, God, I have a decision to make – do you want me to talk to the new girl in class or should I just leave it up to someone else?” All along we are hoping that God tells us to just leave it up to someone else, and when he says, “Yeah, I want you to talk to the new girl,” we tell him we aren’t prepared to do that…could he ask us about that tomorrow?

Oftentimes God makes it very clear what He wants us to do and he wants us to be obedient to him.  We might have a very good excuse as to why we CAN’T do it, but God can usually remedy that. Just like Jeremiah learned, God will provide a way for us to do his will.

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

When Your Calling Feels too Small

By Alison Dellenbaugh

Success is measured in obedience.

Lately, I’m hearing a lot about “calling” and following wherever Jesus leads. And I’ve been right there on the front row, soaking it up. Meanwhile, my church is focusing on what it means to really be a disciple, no matter the cost.

When we hear these calls to radical discipleship and bold leadership, a lot of us have our spirits pierced and want to sign on–as we should. “Here I am. Send me!” we say with Isaiah. “Anything! Anywhere!” We’re ready to lay down our lives, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus into even rough waters. Go to Africa? Start an orphan care ministry? Plant a church in the inner city? No matter how big, Lord, we’ll do it!

But what if God asks us to do something small? That can be the hardest calling of all, especially for those of us who feel passionate about following him with abandon and making a difference in the world.

I’ve told God I’ll do anything he asks, then waited for the next assignment. And he seemed to say to me, “Will you be faithful to keep writing these church announcements?”

Um, of course, Lord, but…don’t You have anything more? Harder? Not so safe?

For you it may be something different. “Will you stay in your current position? Work in the nursery? Serve in the local soup kitchen instead of Haiti? Lead another Bible Study with only the same four people?”

Last year, I felt strongly that God was calling me into a new ministry, though I had no details. I expected a door to open any day, but instead I saw doors close. After a few months, I cried out in prayer late one night, asking God to please call me somehow the next day! And first thing the next morning, I was asked to do a new ministry task. A task that seemed small. A task that turned out to be tedious and stressful, requiring several volunteer hours a week, very much behind the scenes. Given the timing, it almost felt like a divine joke.

Yet the same day I got the assignment, one of my devotionals was on Zechariah 4:10, which says in part, in the NIV, “Who dares despise the day of small things…?” Or in the NLT, “Do not despise these small beginnings.” Message received.

I determined to stay faithful in what I was given, and I sought God hard along the way. Eventually I was relieved of that task, but meanwhile nothing new presented itself, and my husband, who wasn’t even seeking a new ministry opportunity, was given a big, daring one! At least in Zechariah the small beginnings paid off. Mine weren’t seeming to lead anywhere.

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During this time, a Bible study asked for my definition of success. I pondered what would make me feel successful, and it hit me: Success isn’t achieving a particular result. Success is obedience and faithfulness to God–doing whatever he wants me to do, wherever he has put me.

It isn’t measured by what I accomplish relative to what I think I should have accomplished, but by how I respond to God and whether I’ve done what he’s asked. Even if what he’s asked seems less worthy than what I’d hoped to give him.

I say, “But God, I could do this for you!”

And he replies, “Yes, but will you do what I asked?

If we accomplish great things in Jesus’ name–apart from his leading–they’re hollow and they will not last. If we do small things, unnoticeable to other people, because of his leading and out of love for him, those things will have eternal value. We’re often proved the most in the smallest things–the momentary choices to follow, step by step, high or low. Of course we should be willing to die for him, but also to live for him however he leads, even if it’s not what we’d envisioned. A bigger ministry might bring us joy or allow us to more fully use our gifts, but it won’t bring us more success than following him in any other calling.

Still, we’re all frustrated when we feel we have more to offer, or gifts that are not being used. When what we’re doing doesn’t match our passions, we may fear God’s letting us go to waste. But God, who started a good work in us and will be faithful to complete it, is growing and shaping us for his purposes in those moments. I heard Jill Briscoe say at a recent conference that sometimes we learn more of God when we work outside our gifts and passions. Indeed.

I didn’t go a day that season without learning more of God. Had he given me a bigger ministry when I expected it, would I have sought him so hard, or would I have shelved deep reliance on him until I had another perceived need? Would I have seen the opportunity as a sign of his goodness and love, forgetting he’s good and loving even without that? I likely would’ve thought I’d earned it by my super spirituality. And I might have found my security in that, instead of learning anew to find it in him alone.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m still praying for God to open new doors, even as I do what he’s called me to today. But meanwhile I have this confidence: As long as I’m obedient to God, I’m pleasing him regardless of what I’m doing, how important it seems, or even the fruit it bears. And that’s no small calling at all.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Learning from Mary

By Charles W. Christian

I once heard a Catholic priest tell a joke about a scene in Heaven. Jesus walks up to a Protestant and a Catholic and says to them, “I am glad to see you two getting along so well.” Then Jesus turns to the Protestant and says, “I would like to introduce you to my mother.  I don’t think you two have met!”

We Protestants in the crowd laughed, but it challenged me to take a closer look at what we as Christians – both Protestants and Catholics – can learn from Mary.

Based on the Gospels, here are a few lessons that come to mind:

  • We can be available for the work of God: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
  • We can allow faith in God to override our fears:  [Elizabeth said to her], “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her” (Luke 1:45).
  • We can embody thankfulness:  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
  • We can allow God to use us to speak prophetically to a world in need of a Savior: “He [God] has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered the proud. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52).
  • We can learn to treasure God’s gifts: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

There are many other lessons we can learn from Mary’s example.  During this season of Advent, may we, like Mary, approach the future with humility, faithfulness, and hope.

God has chosen His Church to be the bearers of the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Let us adore Him, and let us share this good news by the power of the Holy Spirit as we journey together through Advent.

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Prayer for the week:

Teach us obedience, Lord
In every part of our lives
Ears to hear your word
Hands to do your work
Feet to walk your path
A heart for all your people
A mouth to shout your praise
A childlike faith
Humility
Confidence
That says
To the possible
And the impossible
I am the Lord’s servant
May it be to me as you have said.
Amen

(John Birch at faithandworship.com)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

 

OK, Fine! I’m Sorry!!

By Scott Armstrong

“Listen, my people, and I will speak; I will testify against you, Israel: I am God, your God. I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me” (Ps. 50:7-8).

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(Read Psalm 50:7-15)

I am very lucky to have a brother.  Since he is only two years younger, we had many of the same friends and many of the same interests when we were growing up.  We played together a lot and are still good friends to this day.

But obviously we had our moments of fighting, too.  And I remember as my mom broke up many heated wrestling matches, she would look at me and demand, “Say you’re sorry, Scott.”  Of course, as an obedient son, with true remorse in my heart at what I had done, I would grudgingly mutter, “I’m sorry,” and then wait for my mom to leave before making a face at my brother.

If you have a sibling, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  There are ways to say “I’m sorry” genuinely, and ways to say those words without meaning an ounce of them.  There are times we have asked for forgiveness and meant it and times when we just did it because it was what we were supposed to do.

This is a theme we have had twice in the past week.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6).  In the psalm we just read, God is pleading again for obedience.  If I tell my brother, “I’m sorry,” and yet five minutes later do the same thing in order to irritate him, do I really mean it? God is dealing with the same thing.  So many of his people are praying to him or, in the Old Testament context, sacrificing bulls and goats, without ever having the intention of obeying him.  He desires thankfulness; he wants us to “fulfill our vows”—in other words, obey (v.14).  When we sincerely call on him, he will deliver (v.15), but he wants us to come to him in genuine humility and with a real desire to obey.

What has your relationship with God been like recently? Have you been serving him because you know you should or because you genuinely want to? Has your obedience come from your heart or merely been external? God wants us to obey him out of love and thankfulness for what he has done.  Pray with him right now.  That kind of relationship with him can begin today.

 

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?

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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?

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”?

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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.