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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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]

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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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THE HOLY GOALIE

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (MSG)]

Several weeks ago, there was a story on the morning news about a youth hockey camp. When the sportscaster mentioned having a “holy goalie” in attendance, I stopped to listen. As it turns out, this was not a typical athletic camp but a faith-based one—one that combined sports and God. The aforementioned holy goalie was a Catholic bishop from downstate who loves hockey almost as much as he does Jesus!

Even the best goalie can’t make a save all of the time. Top hockey goalies Martin Brodeur, with 691 wins, and Patrick Roy, with 551 wins, manage to make saves only a little more than 90% of the time. Considering the age and vocation of the “holy goalie,” I doubt that his percentage of saves is anywhere that good. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a real Holy Goalie—someone who could keep the opposition—the enemy—from defeating us? We do, in fact, have a Holy Goalie and He has more defense moves than the priest, Brodeur and Roy combined. Our Holy Goalie isn’t an all-star athlete or even a presiding bishop; He is the Holy Spirit.

Of course, much of a goalie’s success or failure in stopping opposing goals has to do with his team and whether or not the players have played a good defensive game. Even with a truly Holy Goalie, like any good team, we must do our part. Before facing the opponents, hockey players suit up in a host of protective gear: shin guards, elbow pads, heavily cushioned hockey pants, shoulder pads and chest protector, protective gloves, “jock,” helmet, neck guard, mouth guard, and maybe even a face mask. Hockey is fast-moving, intense, rough and sometimes brutal; then again, so is life. We may not get body checked into the boards but circumstances can knock us down just as easily and the enemy can leave us just as bloody as a puck to the nose. Rather than padded clothing, when we suit up for the game of life, we must put on the armor of God to be protected by His truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, faith and word. In hockey, players can change “on the fly” but no one steps in for us in real life. We’ve got to keep going, playing our best, until the whistle blows. That’s where our Holy Goalie differs from a mortal one. He doesn’t just defend us when the enemy gets close to the goal; He acts as cheering section, general manager, coach, trainer, and team physician. Our Holy Goalie, like hockey’s referees and linesmen, also tells us when we’ve crossed the line, violated any rules or been guilty of unChristianlike conduct. While we have no need for a Zamboni driver, the Holy Goalie’s guidance can smooth the way for us better than any Zamboni. Thank you, God, for our Holy Goalie—your Holy Spirit!

Breath in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. [St. Augustine]

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. [Ephesians 4:30 (MSG)]

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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.