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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WHAT IF?

What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? [Psalm 124:1-2 (NLT)]

butterfly on lantanaI looked down at my wedding ring and asked myself, “What if?” What if an odd set of circumstances hadn’t occurred and I hadn’t met the man I married when I did? What if he hadn’t relentlessly pursued me? What if we hadn’t gotten married less than a year after meeting? Since my father’s death occurred only a few months after our wedding, had I not been married, I would have been left completely on my own at the unwise age of twenty. I don’t think the “What if?” scenario would have been very good. I do know it wouldn’t have been as wonderful as the scenario God gave me.

“Whew, that was close!” Surely, you’ve had times like that—occasions when you’re sure God’s hand delivered you: that split second that kept you from being a traffic fatality, the chance encounter that led you to the solution for which you’d been searching, being one of the 5% who beat the prognosis, or the time your toddler’s close encounter with a car was only that—close. “What if…?” we ask ourselves. What if He hadn’t saved me from my enemies? What if God hadn’t stopped me when He did? What if He hadn’t saved me from myself? While I’m not much for looking back and regretfully asking that question, when asking it reinforces our confidence in God’s deliverance, it’s a good question to ask.

Monuments and holidays help us remember God’s deliverance. Moses built an altar of stones at the foot of Mt. Sinai to commemorate God’s covenant with Israel and representatives from the twelve tribes gathered stones to build a memorial to remind the Israelites how the waters of the Jordan River stopped flowing for them. Our Jewish friends celebrate Purim as a reminder of their deliverance from Haman’s murderous plot and Passover as a reminder of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter to remember what Jesus did for us with His birth and resurrection. We remember deliverance in other ways, too. A friend tattooed his sobriety date, his day of freedom from addiction, on his ankle. For over 75 years, my mother-in-law displayed four small faded Limoges plates. They were all that remained of her family’s china after their home exploded and burned in 1929; they reminded her of her family’s survival. Those plain plates now reside in my china cabinet to remind me that we can lose just about everything but, as long as we have God and family, we will have enough and can persevere.

We often forget what God has done for us. Worse, we often attribute it to good luck or to our own skill. David’s psalm asks the people of Israel to consider what might have happened if the Lord had not been on their side. He points out that the Egyptian solders and Israel’s enemies through the ages would have destroyed them. After reviewing God’s past deliverance, he declares his confidence in God’s future faithfulness.

While it’s not wise to dwell on the past, every once in a while it’s a good idea to ask ourselves, “What if?”

They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives. Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart! We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The trap is broken, and we are free! Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:3-8 (NLT)]

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I’M FINE

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. [1 John 5:14-15 (NLT)]

snowy egretsWhen asked about her boys, a friend used to answer, “They’re doing their own thing.” Years later, I learned “their own thing” meant they were breaking her mama’s heart with their addictions and run-ins with the law. Because she kept her pain concealed, she carried the weight of that burden alone for many years. We often hear similar answers when we ask someone how they’re doing— brusque responses like, “I’m fine,” “It’s taken care of,” or “We don’t need a thing.” Maybe everything really is hunky dory but those answers are often used when life has gone seriously awry and things are anything but fine. Those vague but terse responses are conversation stoppers. Even best friends, who suspect something is amiss, won’t pry and the subject is politely changed.

We wrap ourselves up in a nice package on the outside when inside we’re a mess. We allow people into the vestibule of our lives but won’t let them in to see the messy kitchen or dirty floor. We refuse to expose our vulnerabilities and then we wonder where our friends are when we need them. No one knows we need them if we refuse to allow them into our lives. The same goes for God. “Where are you God?” we complain without being willing to admit life’s a mess and we need Him.

Think of the paralyzed man whose friends took him to see Jesus in Capernaum. What if he’d told his friends he was just fine and didn’t need a thing? While his friends went off to see Jesus, he would have remained paralyzed at home and there would be one less miraculous healing. What if the blind man in Bethsaida or the centurion’s servant had said they were fine? Scratch two more healings!

As for Job’s friends—he could have rebuffed them at the door, telling them, “I’m fine; this is just a little setback.” Instead, he allowed them inside to see his scabs, sores and misery. Even with his friends’ erroneous theology, Job must have found comfort when they remained at his side. Perhaps their discussions even strengthened his faith in God.

We tell people we’re okay when we’re not and we often tell God the same thing. We’re so used to replying, “I’m fine,” when a stranger says, “How are you?” that we forget our friends and God actually care about the answer. Most of the time, when people inquire about our lives or ask how they can help, they sincerely want to know. If they’re not really interested, their response to our answer likely will be, “Sorry, I’m busy!” Even though God knows everything about us and all that we need, He tells us to ask Him. He knows we’re not fine, but do we? Fortunately, with God, we can be confident that He’ll never tell us He’s too busy!

Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful. [Ric Ocasek]

You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. [John 16:24 (NLT)]

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. [Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT)]

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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)]

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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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DOWN BUT NOT OUT

No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is unhealthy, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light. [Luke 11:34-36 (NLT)]

broken lightTo avoid the southwest Florida heat, I waited until dusk to take my walk. Thanks to Hurricane Irma, most of the street lamps in my neighborhood don’t work. For a light to function, electrical energy has to be converted into light energy and both a source of electricity and a working connection are needed. For many of the lights, the connection was broken when blowing debris shattered their bulbs. For others, Irma’s 150 mph winds broke the connection when it blew off their tops, wrapped their poles around trees, or knocked them to the ground. Without a connection to their source of power, those street lights are useless—they’re just a tangle of wires and a pile of glass, plastic and metal. Even though they don’t work, people have been cautioned to remember that their exposed wires are live. It’s not the electricity that is missing; it’s the connection that is inoperative. Two poles, however, were down but not out. Even though they’d been flattened by the storm, neither wires nor bulb had broken. In spite of the storm’s violence, they remained connected and were beacons in the night’s darkness.

When the storms of life batter us and knock us down, like those street lamps, we can lose our connection, not to electricity, but to God. Our minds may get so caught up in anger, worry, fear, depression, or self-pity that we become separated from our true source of power—Jesus. He told us to let our lights shine but we can’t shine if we’re not connected to Him. When our lives go dark, we should remember that God hasn’t gone anywhere—like the electricity, He’s still there. We’re the ones who are broken. Unfortunately, no Florida Power & Light truck is going to arrive and reconnect us to God.

Reconnecting is a choice we have to make. Reconnecting is trusting God and ceding to His will. It is prayer and reading the Bible; it is praise, thanksgiving and worship. Reconnecting is turning to God and choosing joy over misery, light over darkness, love over hate, forgiveness over rancor, peace over anger and service over selfishness. Fortunately, we’re not alone in this. We may not have FP&L but we have something more powerful (and far more dependable)—the Holy Spirit! If we allow Him, He will reconnect us to the light of the world. We may be down, but we don’t ever have to go out! By His power, our lights can continue to shine.

Remember this. When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness. This is also the case when people withdraw from God. [Augustine]

And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven. [Luke 24:49 (NLT)]

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

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