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)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

COMPASSION FATIGUE

Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” [1 Kings 19:4 (NLT)]

hibiscusMost of us think of sloth as laziness: a dislike of work or any physical exertion. Having watched the local zoo’s sloth in action (or, rather, inaction), I think the sluggish animal is appropriately named. Spiritual sloth, however, is far different than being a couch potato. Originally, the sin of sloth was two sins: sadness and acedia. Compiled by Evagrius of Pontius, 4th century monk, these two “capitals sins” were part of a list of eight he believed to the greatest threats to devout monasticism.

We know what sadness is and it’s important to remember that the sadness which Evagrius found problematic for his monks was not clinical depression; it was that despondency or gloom that easily came upon a monk living an ascetic life of prayer, fasting and labor in the middle of the Egyptian desert in the 4th century. It was unhappiness with one’s present situation and the melancholy that comes from longing for something different. It was distress at one’s circumstances and the inability to give thanks in all things. In this troubled world, we certainly don’t have to be monks to suffer that kind of sadness.

Acedia comes from the Greek and means without care or concern. Rather than laziness, it is apathy or a fatigue of mind and soul. A spiritual boredom or weariness, acedia results in listless prayers, study or service. In the midday heat, the monks were tempted to let their minds wander during study and prayers and then fall asleep causing Evagrius to call acedia the “noonday demon.” Seeing the correlation between sadness and acedia, in the late 6th century, Pope Gregory combined the two sins into sloth .

A few mornings ago, I fell victim to compassion fatigue and began to understand spiritual sloth. The previous night’s discussion in Bible study had been disheartening. We’d talked of the recent hurricanes (with yet another one on the horizon), Mexico’s earthquakes, Puerto Rico’s devastation, Korea’s threat, the horrendous carnage in Las Vegas, a polarized nation, and the unrest in the Middle East. As I added that night’s heartbreaking prayer requests to my already burgeoning and depressing list, I grew numb with grief. “What’s the point? I wondered as I listed a two-year old just diagnosed with metastasized stomach cancer, a woman who may lose her feet because of nursing home neglect, and a friend’s suicidal son. “What difference can I make? Why bother?” I cried. At that point, my heart was so weary with grief that I no longer wanted to care or pray. I probably felt as Elijah did when, while fleeing Jezebel, he sat down under that broom tree and said he wanted to die. That’s spiritual sloth and it’s not just monks and Old Testament prophets that can be afflicted with it. The enemy wants us all to become so downhearted and world-weary that we fall into spiritual inactivity or sloth.

Elijah was cured of his spiritual sloth by food, rest, and a talk with the Lord. Although I didn’t eat, I was nourished by Scripture. I didn’t sleep but I rested in the words I read and then, like Elijah, I had a prayerful chat with God. God whispered to Elijah and gave him new strength. He whispered to me and refreshed me with his words of love, comfort, reassurance and hope.

I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. [Psalm 94:18-19 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ROOTS

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

sea oatsIt’s not just light poles that were destroyed by Hurricane Irma’s winds; many trees also met their end at her hands. As I looked at the upended roots of a once mighty oak, I thought of one of Aesop’s fables about an oak in a storm. A proud oak stood by a stream, and like this one, had survived several storms in its many years. One day, a hurricane the likes of Irma arrived and the great oak fell with a thunderous crash. As the water rose, it was carried down to the sea. When the oak eventually came to rest along the shore, it looked up at the sea oats that were waving in the now gentle sea breeze, “How did you manage to weather such a terrible storm?” it asked. “I’m a great oak and even I didn’t have strength enough to battle the wind.”

The sea oats replied, “That was your problem. You were too proud to bend and yield a little and so the wind knocked you over. I’m just an insubstantial sea oats plant but, knowing my weakness, I didn’t resist as the wind gusted. The harder it blew, the more I humbled myself and the lower I bent. So, here I am, still enjoying the beach. Aesop’s moral is that it is better to bend than to break. “Perhaps there a message here,” I thought and, yet, I wasn’t sure it was just about pride and humility.

The Apostle Paul was very clear about standing firm in the face of trials and temptation. He told the early church to stand firm and not to waver; he wanted them to be oaks and not sea oats. When facing one of life’s hurricanes, however, it’s pretty hard not to wobble, quiver and quake wildly. If we stand firm, will we be knocked down and end up a piece of drift wood or ground up into mulch? If that mighty oak couldn’t weather the storm, how can we?

The Apostle also said that growing roots in Jesus is what will keep us strong. That fallen oak’s upended roots were taller than me and yet they didn’t do the oak much good when Irma arrived. The roots of which Paul speaks are deep roots that grown down into our Lord. It is strong deep roots that will serve to anchor a tree in the ground. I’m not an arborist, but I could easily see that there was nothing deep about that oak’s roots (or the roots of the many other uprooted oaks throughout our community).

In Jesus’ parable about soil, he told of seed scattered on good soil that grew, seed strewn on a path that was eaten by the birds, seed that was crowded out by the thorns, and seed that fell on rocky soil. Those plants in rockyy soil grew quickly but, since their roots weren’t deep, they withered in the hot sun. If He’d been in a tropical climate like Florida’s, Jesus could have used sand and hurricanes instead of rocks and sun in His analogy. Good nutritious soil is necessary for a plant’s success and Florida’s soil is shallow and mostly sand. The many fallen oaks’ roots, while wide, were shallow and certainly not the kind of roots of which Jesus and Paul spoke.

Aesop’s fable was about pride and humility but the many uprooted oaks in town tell me something more. Granted, there may be times we need to bend a little, as do the sea oats, but we must never bend if that means compromising our faith. I think of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their roots were so deep that they were willing to die before they bent down to worship a false god or failed to worship the true one. While a miracle saved them, there was no miracle for Stephen, a man whose deep roots in Christ gave him strength enough to stand and testify before the Jewish high council knowing he’d die because of it. These men were willing to be sacrificed and broken before bending to the prevailing wind.

Given a choice, I would rather stand strong, like an oak with deep roots, than fall because of the wind. Nevertheless, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, like Stephen and other Christian martyrs, I would rather be broken and fall than bend and survive as do the sea oats.

I pray from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. [Ephesians 3:16-17 (NLT]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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.

SOUNDING BRASS

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. [1 Corinthians 13:1 (KJV)]

maccaw

1 Corinthians is actually Paul’s second letter to the young church at Corinth;  the first letter does not remain. What we consider the first letter is actually Paul’s reply to the Corinthians’ response to his first one. While much of his letter is spent confronting the Corinthians about their sins and correcting their behavior, this rebuke to a troubled church has one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13. Paul, however, is actually writing about the Corinthians’ abuse of their spiritual gifts. By only associating this chapter with weddings and anniversaries, we may miss some of its original meaning.

The “tongues of men” probably refers to the Sanhedrin, the supreme judicial and administrative council of the Jews. Having jurisdiction over religious matters, the high priest acted as its president and its members consisted of the chief priests, scribes and elders. They were to be men of distinction and wisdom conversant in all seventy languages of mankind so interpreters weren’t needed in court. It’s likely that the tongues of men to which Paul referred were the supposedly wise and multilingual tongues of the Sanhedrin. Being ministering spirits, angels have no need for tongues. Nevertheless, there were times they took on flesh and appeared to man and, when acting as God’s messengers, they were inspiring and eloquent in their speech.

Personally, I like brass quartets and the sound of those tinkling cymbals worn on the fingers of Middle Eastern dancers, but those are not what Paul meant. Paul actually was referring to sounding (or echoing) brass which were large cast urns placed around the back of a theater. This primitive sound system served to amplify the actors’ voices and Corinth had a famed set of them. The “sounding brass” could no more create their own sound than could a Bose speaker; having no voice of their own, they only could reproduce sound. As for tinkling cymbals, the two kinds of cymbals used during Jewish worship were percussion instruments. Only played during interludes in the vocal music, they didn’t produce a light tinkle. One was more of a shaker with small cymbals attached to a handle that was shaken. The other cymbals were smaller and heavier than today’s orchestral ones. Rather than the pleasant ringing of wind chimes, they were said to penetrate “as far as Jericho.”

In their cultural context, Paul’s words make far more sense. Even if he could speak with great wisdom, in every language known to man and as magnificently and eloquently as an angel, if his words didn’t come from his heart, they would have no meaning. If he just thoughtlessly  echoed words, his voice simply would be an irritating  loud sound.

We worry so much about what to say and how to say it when an opportunity to share our faith arises that we usually fail to share God’s message at all. Paul’s words should reassure us that it’s not the words or eloquence that matter; it’s the love behind those words. If we love God and love people, then the words we speak will be filled with love. Without love, however, no matter how articulate, self-assured and knowledgeable we are, our message will be meaningless noise.

The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. [1 Timothy 1:5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.