Monday, August 14, 2017

“Bootleg Faith”

Key Verse:
Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)
A skeleton hangs in my family history closet. It’s very quiet. No one brings the skeleton to our family gatherings. It seldom rattles, but when it does, we all look at each other appalled. How can our family have a history of bootlegging?

To my shock and dismay, it’s true. My great-grandfather and grandpa bootlegged alcohol during the Prohibition of the 1920’s. The original term, bootleg, comes from the attempt to conceal something, usually whiskey, in a flask down the inside of a high-top boot. However, during the Prohibition, the word “bootleg”  was soon coined to mean brewing drink that was only a copy of the real thing—whiskey.

So, when the government prohibited the making or selling of any type of alcohol, my forefathers saw opportunity. They contrived a small distillery in a basement and sold the liquid gold at exorbitant prices. The folk who remember the brew said it smelled like oil and tasted like acid. However, it was in high demand. So, the “family wealth” expanded from the illegal activity of making something that produced the desired effect-- drunkenness--but no one actually considered the concoction the “real stuff.” The bootlegged moonshine made everyone happy—my ancestors and the city drunks. 

Sometimes our faith is bootlegged. We try to fake the appearance of faith in others. We tuck their “faith” inside our spirit, so we can be “spiritual.” Or, like my “family wealth,” perhaps our faith is passed down to us. We assume it’s real. “Family faith” feels comfortable, like a well-worn leather boot. We participate in all sorts of rituals, celebrations, and prayers that we don’t understand or even care about. Bootlegged faith is never authentic growing faith. It’s fake faith.

I want my faith to be genuine and not a hand-me-down, don’t you?  Let’s pledge today to grow our own faith by reading God’s Word, praying and attending a Bible based church.  Let’s show our communities, not a bootleg faith, but an authentic faith that glorifies God.

Dear Lord, help me not to “bootleg” my faith from others.  Grow authentic faith within me. Grant me the privilege of glorifying You through my faith. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application steps: 
Read Acts 2:41-42. List the spiritual disciplines of the early followers of Christ.  Choose one to practice in your own life.  Ask God to increase your personal faith as you seek a closer relationship with Him.  

Do I try to falsely imitate someone else’s faith?

How can I develop a strong faith of my own? 

Power verses:
Acts 2:41-42, “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (NASB)
Romans 10:17, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (NIV)
1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (NIV)

Excerpt from Birds in My Mustard Tree by Susanne Scheppmann

© 2008 by Susanne Scheppmann. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 11, 2017

“Flak Jacket”

By Susanne Scheppmann

Key Verse:
Ephesians 6:10-11, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. (NIV) 

I admit I watch professional bull riding.  It amazes me the courage the young cowboys portray on the back of those huge bulls.  They grit their teeth and climb aboard the stomping bull.  When they nod their head, the gate opens and the bull charges out into the area.  They attempt to stay on for eight seconds. Although, most are thrown off before the timer sounds. 

Bull riding is dangerous. Many times when they show a close-up, I can see the solid hoof come down on the chest of the ejected rider. Fortunately, most cowboys wear a vest. This vest not only absorbs some of the shock, but it also helps dissipate it over a larger area of the chest.  These vests also protect the rider against being gored by the bull’s horn. These flak jackets are made from the same material as bulletproof jackets. These vests work as armor against the brutality of the bull.

As believers we need protection, too.  1 Peter 5:8 states, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (NIV)  However, we do not have to worry about our enemy because God has provided us with the availability of a “flak jacket.”  It is the armor of God. 

Our Key Verse is found in Ephesians 6.  Let’s look at what else we can discover from this same chapter concerning our protective gear. 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17 NIV) 

With this type of protection, we can be as courageous as any daring bull rider.  Plus, we do not have to attempt to hang on for only eight seconds.  We can stand strong for all eternity.  Because God tells us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 (NIV).  Satan will be like the bull heading for the exit gate, he will hightail it out when he knows you are bold and dressed for battle.

So let’s strap on our spiritual flak jackets and get ready for victory. 
Dear Lord, I need protection from my enemy.  Teach me to stand firm and to put on the armor of God each day.   In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Application steps: 
Stand in front of mirror.  Read Ephesians 6:10-17 and visualize yourself putting on each piece of the armor of God.  Then stand firm in the power of Holy Spirit.

Refection points:
Do I understand that I have a spiritual enemy?

Do I feel unprotected in any area of my spiritual life?

Do I believe that the armor of God can protect me for all eternity?

Power verses: 
Deuteronomy 33:29, “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places." (NIV)  

Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (NIV) 

Psalm 18:30, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.” (NIV) 

Psalm 28:7, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.  My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” (NIV) 

© 2006 by Susanne Scheppmann. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 7, 2017

“A Fool’s Donkey”

By Susanne Scheppmann

Key Verse:
Proverbs 19:1, “Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.”  (NIV) 

Eccentric people can make us laugh.  They say and do funny things.  Sometimes they appear foolish in our eyes.  Have you ever appeared foolish to someone?  I most certainly have.

At the beginning of the New Year, I decided I would exercise more.  A three-mile walk each day became my goal.  I enlisted my two tiny Shih Tzu dogs to help me achieve my fitness goal.  I enjoy walking with my dogs but they both have arthritis in their hind legs.  So, I devised an ingenious solution with the help of an old twin baby stroller.  I plopped my dogs in the dilapidated stroller and squinted into bright morning sun.  I decided to grab my sunglasses and off we went.

About two miles into my hike, I saw a lady with a darling Maltese puppy prancing beside her.  She appeared somewhat startled as I approached.  I grinned and said, “I know it’s ridiculous pushing these dogs in a baby stroller, but they can’t walk very far.”  She nodded rather curtly.  She snatched her tiny fluffy dog up in her arms and strode away without another word.

After my invigorating exercise, I came home quite pleased with my ingenuity.  I lifted the dogs out of the twin stroller.  I took off my sunglasses and placed them on the kitchen counter.  To my surprise and horror, one of the dark lenses had fallen out.  I realized how foolish I must have looked.  Strolling two dogs in a baby stroller and staring out of sunglasses with a missing lens.  No wonder the woman grabbed her dog and high-tailed it away from me!

I laughed until my sides ached.  Although I looked and acted foolishly, it did no harm to anyone. 

Unfortunately, some of our behaviors hurt others.  One of the most common themes throughout the Bible is the foolish use of our tongue.  We are warned not to use our tongue to bless God and then curse men.  (James 3:9-10)

Do you recall Balaam in the book of Numbers?  King Balak of Moab wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites, but God commanded that Balaam bless them.  The story goes on that Balaam keeps trying to figure out a way to bypass the will of God.  Eventually, Balaam’s donkey speaks up.

When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey's mouth, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?"

Balaam answered the donkey, "You have made a fool of me!  If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now."  (Numbers 22:27-29 NIV) 

Balaam’s own foolish decisions made him a fool, not the donkey’s behaviors.  Balaam desired to use his tongue to curse God’s people.  The donkey, although only a beast, held more wisdom than Balaam. 

Unfortunately, more times than I care to admit my tongue has made a fool of me.  Words flew from my mouth, only to be heard by the very person whom I had mentioned unkindly.  Other times I believed that only my opinion on a subject could be correct.   Soon enough I discovered I didn’t even know what I was talking about.  Yes, I have been a fool with folly falling from my lips.

However, I do desire to be a woman of wisdom—one who heeds her words.  I want to be like the woman of Proverbs 31:26. “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

I may behave foolishly by walking my dogs in a baby stroller.  I might appear like a fool wearing sunglasses with only one lens.  However, I pray that my tongue will speak wisdom.  I certainly never want to give cause for a donkey to speak to me! 

Father God, help me learn to control my foolish tongue.  Remind me that my words can make me look foolish to others.  Convict of the sin of gossip that will destroy my witness of Your Faithfulness in my life.  I ask the Holy Spirit to take control of my tongue, so that words of wisdom flow from it.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application steps: 
Read James 3:1-12.  Then answer the following questions.
What is one of the characteristics of a perfect person? (Verse 2)

How is the tongue described?  (Verses 6-8)

Why does James tell us we should not curse anyone? (Verse 9)

What comparisons does James give concerning the tongue?  (Verses 10-12)

Refection points:
How do I use my tongue foolishly?

How do I use words of wisdom?

Does God ever think I needed a donkey to speak to me?

Power verses: 
Proverbs 18:2, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.”  (NIV) 

Proverbs 18:13, “He who answers before listening--that is his folly and his shame.” (NIV) 

Proverbs 19:1, “Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.”  (NIV) 

Proverbs 13:16, “Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly.” (NIV)
1 Peter 3:10, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.”  (NIV) 

© 2006 by Susanne Scheppmann. All rights reserved.