RESTORATION SPECIALISTS

RainbowThese people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve. [2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NLT)]

More than four weeks have passed since Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on southwest Florida. Debris is piled into mini-mountains along the roads and, with over $320 million in damages in our county alone, the storm chasers have descended. Calling themselves restoration specialists, their trucks prowl the neighborhoods. They claim expertise in water extraction, mold removal, window and screen replacement, roofing, landscaping, carpet cleaning, drywall, plaster, demolition and reconstruction. At best they are anything but expert and do shoddy work; at worst, they are scam artists who take their money and run! Desperate to get back to some semblance of normalcy after this devastating storm, people will hire just about anyone who promises speedy restoration. These swinders are having a heyday while leaving behind a mess for the homeowners.

As Christians, we have the genuine restoration specialist: Jesus Christ. Rather than restoring flooded houses, He restores sight to the blind and life to the dead. His death and resurrection restored our relationship with God the Father. Nevertheless, during the hurricanes that occur in our lives—those storms that leave us emotionally battered and bruised—we can fall prey to another team of counterfeit restoration specialists. Called false prophets or false apostles in Scripture, I think of them as the pseudo philosophers and ersatz preachers of today. Some just may be misguided but others are charlatans and hypocrites. Either way, their teachings are incorrect and, like faulty wiring, dangerous!

When desperate, we tend to grab onto the first thing we see and the enemy is no fool; he quickly has his restoration specialists at our doors with their false promises of repair and renewal. Knowing that outright lies are far easier to recognize than half-truths, their deception is usually mixed with a little truth. Rather than denying the entire Gospel, they distort and misrepresent its message. Like storm chasers, they’re  great salesmen—friendly, empathetic and smooth talkers who tell us what we want to hear. Instead of a new roof in two days, they promise hope and a means to a better life but, like any scammer, their work is costly and defective!

Knowledge is power. The more we know about our homes, the more knowledgeable we are about their repair. We can recognize a solution that is too easy, too expensive or too cheap to be true. Knowledge is power when it comes to our faith, as well. The more we know about the Bible, the better able we are to recognize incorrect or fabricated doctrine. The entire message—not just a few cherry picked verses—must come from the Bible. Jesus is essential; the only salvation is through Christ and the cross. Rather than asking for a business license, we should make sure our spiritual storm chaser exhibits the Fruit of the Spirit and that his message will yield that same fruit in us. Moreover, we must be wary of any message that promises a quick easy fix. If it promises forgiveness without repentance or heaven without hell, it really is too easy (and too cheap) to be true! Repair and renovation after a hurricane takes time and effort and so does spiritual renewal after we’ve been hit by any storm in life. Just be sure to depend on the number one restoration expert—Jesus Christ!

Satan is the counterfeiter. …He has a false gospel, preached by false ministers, producing false Christians. …Satan plants his counterfeits wherever God plants true believers. [Warren Wiersbe]

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. [1 John 4:1-3 (NLT)]

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FAITH AND BELIEF

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. [Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)]

blue birdI recently read an article about creeds that asked, “Do Christians have to believe all that stuff?” The author asserted that Christians don’t have to “assent intellectually” to the facts of traditional Christian teaching or agree with the Christian creeds. According to her, following the teachings of Jesus is more important than believing certain things about him. Faith is simply placing one’s confidence in “Spirit” (not the Holy Spirit). For the author, Christianity is a way of life rather than a belief. Merely a wisdom tradition, it has nothing to do with dogma or creeds.

The author discounts creeds because they were man-made in the fourth century when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. The first creed actually predates Constantine by more than a thousand years and was given us by God. It was the Hebrew Shema, which is found in Deuteronomy where the fundamental belief of Judaism is declared:Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”[6:4] This declaration of belief was (and remains) the cornerstone of the Jewish faith. Moreover, we should be cautious about discounting creeds because they are man-made. Maps are man-made and yet they can give a pretty accurate picture of the land! Like a map, our creeds provide an accurate summary of Christianity’s basic teachings. While no substitute for Scripture, they condense the basics of our belief in a nutshell.

The author contends that belief and faith are two different things and that belief is not essential for faith. I disagree (and so does the Apostle Paul). Belief and faith seem to be two sides of the same coin. Belief is conviction that something is true and faith is trusting in the promise of that belief. I can believe the airplane is flight-worthy and the pilot fully capable of piloting it but it is faith in the plane’s mechanics and pilot that makes me trust them enough to board the plane and take that flight. On the other hand, I’m not going to have faith in them if I don’t believe they have been properly schooled and possess the skills necessary to do their jobs! Belief without faith or faith without belief will keep me stranded on the ground.

We have to know and believe the promises of God if we are to have faith enough to trust them. Our creeds are the bedrock of Christianity and help us know exactly what it is in which we have faith!

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. [Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)]

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GOD’S BANKERS

wild geraniumThere are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors. [Deuteronomy 15:11 (MSG)]

The Hebrew word for what we call “charity” is tzedakah; its nature, however, is far different than acts of benevolence or generosity. Rather than being a magnanimous act by someone more fortunate, tzedakah is considered an act of justice and righteousness. It is remedying a wrong, doing what is right and just, and fulfilling a duty; in short, it is giving the poor what they deserve.

In writing about charity, Rabbi Yanki Tauber tells of a wealthy man who often supported his rabbi’s charitable activities. One day a letter requesting a large sum for a good cause arrived. At the time, money was a little tight and making a donation was inconvenient so the rich man ignored the request. Shortly after that, his businesses began to fail and the wealthy entrepreneur lost his entire fortune.

The distraught fellow went to the synagogue and berated the holy man for not warning him that he’d suffer if he ignored the rabbi’s plea. “I would have given you the money had I known what punishment I would suffer!” he said. The rabbi calmly responded that the loss of money wasn’t a punishment. “Nothing that was yours has been taken from you,” he explained, adding that God had allotted a certain amount of resources to the rabbi in his work. Since the time he spent in prayer, studying, teaching, counseling and helping others left him no time to manage finances or property, the rabbi’s resources had been placed in the trust of several people who acted as “bankers” for that wealth. In turn, those bankers recognized the value of the rabbi’s work and supported it. When the once rich man failed to carry out his banking duty, the money was simply transferred to another, more responsible, “banker.”

God loves all of His children but that does not mean that He allots equal portions of blessings or sorrows to each of them. Some are healthier, wealthier, smarter, more talented or more attractive than others. Some people seem to escape misfortune while others seem to encounter storms at every turn. Because of an accident of birth, we may live comfortable lives in a wealthy nation or suffer in poverty in a corrupt or war-torn land. Some people have power and are easily heard while others are powerless and often ignored. That we are not given equal portions, however, does not mean that we are not equally deserving. If we have been blessed with wealth, education, influence or opportunities, we should think of ourselves as God’s bankers. We’re just holding on to other people’s resources and it is our job to distribute those resources to their rightful owners. Like our Jewish brothers and sisters, Christians should be dispensers of tzedakah. Unlike them, however, we don’t do it to buy our way into heaven (which it won’t). We do it because God tells us it is the right thing to do!

God does not need your good works, but our neighbor does. [Martin Luther]

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. [1 John 3:16-17 (MSG)]

Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:40 (MSG)]

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THE BLESSING

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. [Matthew 26:26-28 (NLT)]

columbineThe celebration of the Eucharist or Holy Communion has been central to our Christian worship since the early church. If asked the meaning of the word eucharist, most of us would probably respond that it is the Christian sacrament that commemorates the Last Supper with bread and wine. While it has come to mean that and often refers to the consecrated elements, especially the bread, the word eucharist originally meant something else entirely. Coming from the Greek words eukharistos, meaning grateful, and kharizesthai, meaning to offer graciously, it is a translation of the Hebrew word berekah which means a blessing or benediction. Acknowledging God as the source of all good things, a berekah would be similar to the grace or table blessing we offer before or after a meal.

When Jesus spoke the traditional Passover meal berakahot that night in the upper room, he gave them new meaning when he added the words, “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” In thanks, He raised the bread just as his body soon would be raised on the cross. He took the matzah that symbolized the suffering of Israel, thanked God for it, and broke it, knowing that his body would be broken in less than a day. As He passed it to the disciples, the bread that once symbolized Israel’s suffering became the bread that would symbolize His. The disciples may have thought he was simply offering a blessing for the Passover bread but Jesus was offering thanks for the body which soon would be defeated by thorns, whip, nails and cross. He then thanked God as he poured out the wine that symbolized Israel’s redemption from Egypt and passed it around. The disciples may have thought he was giving thanks for Israel’s redemption from Egypt but Jesus knew it was for their redemption from sin. For something to be redeemed, however, a price must be paid and Jesus knew that price would be his blood. While pouring out the wine, He knew his blood would soon pour from his body and yet he still gave thanks. Knowing full well the torment he would suffer, He graciously offered himself for us and gave thanks.

Last week, when the Words of Institution were spoken before Communion and the bread and wine were consecrated, I realized I hadn’t fully appreciated the circumstances in which those words originally were spoken. Jesus knew He’d be betrayed, disappointed and denied within hours. He knew the agony that would soon occur. Jesus knew he would be broken and bleed. He knew the real sacrifice was not the lamb on which they’d supped; He was the sacrificial Lamb of God and yet He acknowledged God as the source of all blessings and thanked Him! Blessed be the Lord; let us give thanks!

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings bread from the earth. … Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. [Jewish prayers over bread and wine] 

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! [John 1:29 (NLT)]

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COUNTING THE COST

If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. [Luke 14:26-28a (NLT)]

coreopsisHis cautionary words to the disciples are difficult to understand. How can Jesus, who told us to love our enemies and do good to them, tell us to hate our families? Do we have to despise our relatives if we want to be his disciples? Fortunately, after getting the disciples’ attention with that unusual statement, Jesus followed with a parable about a man who undertook a project without counting the cost and then couldn’t finish what he began. Hating our family is just a hyperbole; it’s a way of saying that anyone who follows Christ must love Him more than anything else. Christ is to be first and foremost in our hearts and minds. In comparison to our love for Jesus, we are to love them less (or “hate” them). To be His disciple, Jesus demands total commitment; we must be willing to give up everything for Him, even if that means the things and people we love. Sadly, when we choose Christ over loved ones, they might perceive our love of Jesus as a betrayal and may even hate us for that choice.

I was raised in a family of believers and married a believer so I never had to choose between Jesus and family. For a moment, however, consider the disciples and their families. When they left their jobs to follow Jesus, did they leave behind loved ones? Did their families disown them or distance themselves from what seemed fanaticism or membership in a strange cult? What about the Apostle Paul? Originally known as Saul of Tarsus, he came from a family of Pharisees and spent many years studying Scripture under the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel. If not already a member of the Sanhedrin, he was well on his way to becoming a member of the high council and was an active leader in persecuting the followers of Christ. Saul was probably everything a devout Jewish family would want in a good Jewish son until he became a Christian evangelist named Paul! Think of what it cost him to follow Jesus.

While some of us gave up a few bad habits or unsavory friends when we accepted Christ, Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi gave up far more. When this Pakistani-American gave up his Muslim faith, he gave up his loving family as well. His becoming Christian caused a devastating destruction of their relationship and it took nearly ten years for the healing to begin. I cannot begin to comprehend the difficulty of his choice to follow Christ and the pain experienced by both parents and son. When I read Qureshi’s story, I finally understood what Jesus meant when He said to count the cost before we give up our lives and pick up that cross.

How could I betray my family after all they had done for me? By becoming a Christian, not only would I lose all connection with the Muslim community around me, my family would lose their honor as well. My decision would not only destroy me, it would also destroy my family, the ones who loved me most and sacrificed so much for me. I began mourning the impact of the decision I knew I had to make.… “But Jesus,” I said, “accepting you would be like dying. I will have to give up everything.”… For Muslims, following the gospel is more than a call to prayer. It is a call to die. [Nabeel Qureshi]

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. [Luke 9:23-24 (NLT)]

Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. [Mark 10:28-30 (NLT)]

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OUR FOUNDATION

In that day he will be your sure foundation, providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the Lord will be your treasure. [Isaiah 33:6 (NLT)]

Dear God, what misery I beheld! The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows nothing about the Christian faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers. [Martin Luther]

Old World Wisconsin churchYesterday I mentioned getting an email with the subject, “How firm is your foundation?” Although it was an advertisement for a new study Bible connecting Biblical teachings to Christian beliefs, that very question has been the topic of discussion in our northern church for the last few weeks. The parish is doing a church-wide study of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Back in the 1500s, Martin Luther was appalled at the lack of knowledge of both pastors and their congregations. Not especially tactful, he accused some pastors of being “lazy bellies and presumptuous saints!” His words for their congregations, “simple cattle and mindless pigs!” were no more diplomatic. People who called themselves Christians had no idea what that meant. They didn’t know the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer, let alone anything else in the Bible. Last week, our Pastor asked us what Luther might say if he visited today’s churches. We agreed that his words for our pastors would be more complimentary but that his words for their congregations might be the same or worse!

To remedy the deplorable lack of knowledge he found, Luther wrote his Small Catechism in 1529. This little book of Christian instruction was written not for theologians and priests but for ordinary people. It covers the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, confession, Holy Communion, daily prayers and even offers a Household Chart of Bible passages describing the duties of people in various walks of life. Much of the catechism is done in question and answer form with the answer succinctly provided. For example, after listing the first commandment, it asks, “What does this mean?” and then explains: “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” In short, Luther’s Small Catechism is a 16th Century version of Christianity for Dummies. Surprisingly, given its age, it is amazingly straightforward. Without theological minutia or argument, it is easily understood and certainly not limited to the Lutheran church.

This brings me back to the question that appeared in my email yesterday, “How firm is your foundation?” Do you know and understand what it is you profess to believe? Do you know why you believe it? How firm is your foundation?

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled? [John Rippon]

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. [Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.