Monday, November 30, 2015

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

     As of this past weekend, we lost our internet connection.  Calling our provider produced little help because they felt the issue was our modem.  Of course, the new modem we need will have to be ordered and may arrive on Wednesday.  Until then, I am limited to my smartphone.  Needless to say, this makes typing a devotion a little more challenging.  Having grown up in the early TV era, we would refer to this as having technical difficulties as programs frequently lost their signal.  For a brief time we would see a sign informing us of problems.  Sure enough, it was not long till the program came back on the air.  I found myself grateful for the work of the technicians behind the scenes.
     Fortunately, God has provided a Helper for us who dwells and lives in the life of every believer
not  just when we experience trouble but at all times.  The blessed Holy Spirit was sent to teach us, guide us into all truth and comfort us in times of need.  Furthermore, He is the one who points out and convicts us of our sin.  Throughout the book of John, Jesus refers the work of the Holy Spirit:  "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, who will abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you" (John 14:16-17).   Now that is better than any repair technician!
     Later in this same passage, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will not only reveal truth to us but will also help us remember it as well.  Verse 26 reads:  "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."  What comforting words to hear!  Even in the most difficult situations the Holy Spirit comes through to us.
      A great example comes to mind in a recent visitation to a nursing home patient.  This gentleman spent his life on the mission field and faithfully served the Lord.  Now he is advanced in age and suffering with dementia.  My visitation partner and I found him sitting at a table in the lounge area.  We asked him if we could pray with him and he seemed delighted.  He bowed his head as we offered up prayers on his behalf.  When we had finished, we asked if we could return and pray with him again in the future to which he heartily said "Amen!"  The visit was such a blessing.  We may have technical difficulties when it comes to our memory in later years but the Holy Spirit can bring to our remembrance the things of the Lord.
      In addition to being our truth giver, teacher and guide, the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin also comforts us when we repent.  Most of us are familiar with I John 1:9:  " If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness."  When we acknowledge our wrong doing, the Holy Spirit comforts and keeps us in His path.  Likewise, He provides us with the strength to carry on during hard times as well.  I have lost many loved ones over the years and probably none harder than our grandson.  Yet through it all, God the Holy Spirit was there to hold us and wipe away the tears.  He truly is a Comforter to our hearts.
     Quite often, I believe we forget the precious ministry of the Holy Spirit or take for granted His work in our lives to conform us to Christ likeness.  It is He who gives the gifts and produces the fruit in our lives.  If it were not for His presence, we would falter in our walk each day.  By His power, we can overcome the temptations, pitfalls and technical difficulties we face.  Let us not forget to praise and thank the Lord who gave us the gift of His Spirit that we might live each day for Him.  My internet may be down, but for the believer, we will never lose our connection because of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Selah!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Blurring the Lines

     More than any other thing, I hate injustice.  In fact, I do not know another soul who feels good about all the wrongs in this world.  Yet, the reality is that we live in a fallen world filled with murder, cruelty, abuse, neglect and almost every other unimaginable horror that can be named.  This is why God gave to us His commandments and instituted government that we might be protected.
     Unfortunately, today, the lines are being blurred between different spheres of influence.  There are those who try to apply the principles given to believers in Christ (e.g. Sermon on the Mount) to decisions which rightly belong to government authorities.  Conversely, government has begun to insert itself into the spiritual realm by trying to dictate to Christians a politically correct outlook towards abortion, homosexuality and other issues.  However, there has to be appropriate balance between the spheres of influence in our society.  This is brought out very clearly in Focus on the Family's "The Truth Project".  According to Del Tackett (the instructor in this series), the blurring of spheres often leads to intrusion into areas not meant to be controlled by government as an example.
     Currently, there has been a lot of debate in social media on whether we should take in refugees who are fleeing Syria.  The plight of women and children is especially heartrending for us to see.  As Christians, our desire is to minister to the least of these and reach out with compassion.  We know that Christ instructed us:  "“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27).   Our desire is to follow this, but we also must take into account the full counsel of God's Word.  The Bible also says in Matthew 10:16:  "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. "  Before sending out His disciples, Jesus warned them how to conduct themselves in this world.  Therefore, we also need to be wise when it comes to taking action in our current world situation.  This is where government comes into the picture.
     In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul addresses the role of government:  "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience" (Romans 13:1-5).  From this passage, we learn that God has established government for our good as well as our protection.
     Presently many states have ruled to prevent any Syrian refugees from coming into their area.  Those in leadership positions believe there should be more vetting to make certain a person truly wants asylum in our country for the right reasons and not for the purpose of terror.  Their perspective follows what a government is designed to do - to protect us.  Once these refugees are thoroughly vetted, then, we are free to assist them as believers, thus fulfilling our call to minister to the least of these.  What we must realize is that we cannot  impose our moral mandates on government.  We are to respect their leadership in matters like this because God is sovereign and He will take care of us.
     Let us remember that we must embrace the whole counsel of God's Word  whenever a circumstance arises.  Ultimately, our purpose and joy is to bring glory to God rather than please men.   Allow the government to exercise its scope of authority and trust in God to handle all the rest.  Selah!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Doctrine Does Matter

     On this "Throw Back Thursday", I am republishing a post that I wrote a number of years ago because I believe this is a growing problem among Christians today.  I hope you are blessed and encouraged as you read this.  Feel free to share this with others.
Barbara Thayer

     I had a long and interesting talk with a friend the other day.  We frequently get into discussions over spiritual issues, and I wish i could say I agree with her position.  However, there are times when I am troubled by the comments she makes.  The other day she told me that it didn't matter if she went to church or not.  She had a relationship with God and that is all she needed.  She could go to any church and feel right at home.  For her, doctrine did not matter because if we believe in Jesus Christ that is all that is necessary.  She was tired of the disputing over various ideas put forth by denominations.
     When we parted company, I was saddened by her position which I have encountered many times over the years.  People so easily say, "It doesn't matter what you believe so long as you believe in Jesus." But the question that comes to my mind is what DO you believe about Jesus?  This is what doctrine teaches us, and understanding the foundations of our faith are critical to growth in Christ.  It DOES matter what you believe.
     In Webster's "American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), we find this definition of doctrine:  "In a general sense, whatever is taught.  Hence a principle or position in any science; whatever is laid down as true by an instructor or master. The doctrines of the gospel are the principles or truths taught by Christ and His apostles.....Instruction and confirmation in the truths of the gospel" (pg 65).  Based on this definition, I wonder, then, how can we be instructed in the things which Christ and the Apostles taught if we are not affiliated with a body of believers?  For it is within the body, that we find Pastor/teachers who preach the Gospel to us, Sunday school classes and Bible studies where we can gain insight and find stimulation and fellow believers who will hold us accountable for our actions.  Being isolated from the fellowship of other believers and trying to hear God on our own puts us at a disadvantage.  The Apostle Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Romans:  "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How then will they believe in Him in whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14 - New Am. Standard)
      Within the pages of the Bible, we have the fullness of God's counsel.  The words of truth form the doctrine of our faith which is critical knowledge for the Christian.  To say, "It doesn't matter what people believe as long as they believe in Jesus" is naive at best and at worst, makes us a target for Satan.  According to another letter which Paul wrote to Timothy, we read:  "Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth" ( 2 Timothy 2:15).  In the same letter Paul goes on to write this about the Bible and hence the doctrine found in the Bible:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for gaining in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16).
Paul makes it clear that we are to study the Word of God and handle it carefully, but we also need to recognize that it is powerful in our lives.  While studying the Bible on our own is important, we also must gather together in corporate worship which will help us stay the course and keep on the right track.
     Unfortunately, today there are a number of churches that no longer spend time teaching both children and adults the doctrines of the faith.  Instead, they have replaced sound teaching with "feel good" philosophy".  Some have put aside the great Confessions of the faith as well as the catechisms which help to organize the basic doctrines of the faith as found in the Bible.  Is it any wonder that many believers today do not have a clear understanding of what their church teaches or believes?  So how can we remedy this problem?
     Of course, sound preaching and teaching in our fellowships is key.  This is where our faith can clearly be expounded.  We may also wish to return to some of the practices of early believers who used a two year period of discipling new believers before they were allowed to join the church.  When they came into fellowship, these Christians understood and knew what they believed.  Church membership was more important to them and they looked forward to their time of fellowship with others.  Finally, we, as believers, need to take time to be students of God's Word absorbing the doctrines of Christ.
     There is no greater reward than the study of our faith (doctrines).  When we do this in the context of fellowship, we will come to understand more quickly the grace of our Lord that saved us.  Doctrine (our belief system) does matter and so does church fellowship.  May we be found faithful in both.  Selah!