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!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Hard Lesson to Learn

     Our five and a half month old puppy "Murphy" has been learning some things the hard way and in the process, he has demonstrated a biblical truth.  Due to his beautiful soft long hair, he is a walking magnet for every sand burr to be found by the side of the road.  When we go for walks, it is not unusual for him to bring several of these prickly hitchhikers home with him.  As a result, I have to spend time trying to get them out of his hair so he is comfortable again.  It is not a fun job, but a necessary one.
     Then, over a week ago, Murphy came face to face with the biggest scare of his short life.  He loves to snoop around the dishwasher when it is open.  Licking dirty dishes, if he can, is a sport for him.  This night, however, he got one of the tags on his collar caught in the bottom rack and when he pulled away, he took the entire bottom rack with him clattering and banging to the floor.  Pots and pans banged and all the wheels flew off the rack as Murphy dragged the rack halfway across the kitchen.  Poor baby, he was frightened and managed to get away from that scary dishwasher rack.  I found him hiding under the end table.  Needless to say, he has not gone near the bottom rack of the dishwasher since that time.  We had a good laugh as nothing was broken and our puppy was just fine.
       When I thought about these two incidents, it made me think about sin and how it wants to stick to us just like a sand burr.  All we have to do is be near enough to a sin for it to latch on to us.  Our old flesh wants to rise up at the sight of temptation; so we fly too near the flame of desire and often get caught up just like Murphy.  Hebrews 12:1 reminds us:  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,"  We can only throw off sin with God's help and assistance.  All we have to do is repent and the Lord Himself will remove the sting that comes from a fall.  He is the Good Shepherd who binds up the wounds that sin leaves when we repent.
     In the second instance, Murphy got in trouble with the dishwasher because he got too close to the rack and got caught by it.  Isn't this the same thing we do from time to time?  Sin looks inviting.  At times, we want to investigate it and get a little closer.  However, when we start to contemplate it and get too close, we also will be caught like Murphy.  Then, when we try to pull away, we end up carrying some pretty heavy baggage with us, and sin is not quiet.  There is no easy way to escape as Murphy discovered.  Yet, God has given to us the Holy Spirit who is our Comforter, Teacher, and Guide into all truth.  If we lean on Him and heed the Word of God to us, we will not fall into the sin
to begin with.
     As believers, we have freedom of choice.  We can either entertain sin or refuse to go near it.  This was true for Cain.  After God rejected Cain's offering, Cain went away angry because his brother's offering was accepted.  The Lord spoke these words to him in Genesis 4:7:  "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it."  Cain chose not to listen to the Lord, and he killed his brother.  For the rest of his life, he was a marked man never able to avoid looking over his shoulder and wondering if someone was coming for revenge.
     Another example comes when David fell into sin with Bathsheba.  He could have gone to war as other kings did, but he chose to stay behind.  When he saw this beautiful woman, he again did not have to let it lead him to sin.  We know, though, that David committed adultery and eventually murder.  Yes, David repented but the sword never again would depart from his house.  There were consequences for his actions.
     Dear Ones, we do not have to choose a path filled with burr
type sins that can cling to us and make it tough to be rid of them.  Likewise, God does not want us to snoop around sin like Murphy checked out the dishwasher rack.  We can avoid both of these by putting ourselves under the Shepherd's care.  If we do fall, He will pick us up when we repent and call upon Him.  May we be comforted knowing that we need not walk in these paths.  Certainly, Murphy learned his lesson and is careful to avoid the dishwasher at all costs.  Let us follow his example and flee sin.  Selah!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Neglecting an Important Day

     In August, we begin to see the stores fill up with Halloween candy and items.  It is low key at first, but then, suddenly it is in full bloom in September.  Once this day has passed, it seems that all eyes turn instantly to Christmas totally ignoring a day set aside to give thanks to God.  I love Christmas, don't get me wrong, but I also believe we need to enjoy the moments of family fellowship that come without presents, pageants and a huge flurry of activity.
     Thanksgiving was instituted by the Pilgrims to thank God for His benefits and blessings.  These people had traveled a long distance to make this land their home free from religious oppression.  Many died on the journey and many more after they arrived; yet, their hearts were filled with gratitude.  They took seriously the Scriptures that told them to thank God in all things, and thus was born this time of fellowship, prayer and worship.
     Without a doubt, the greatest source of thanksgiving is often found in the Psalms which the Pilgrim's frequently sang during their times of worship.  One such example is found in Psalm 145 where David offers praise to God.  Verses 1-3 read:  "I will extol You, my God and King, and bless Your name forever and ever.  Every day I will bless You and praise Your name forever and ever.  Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable."  While David certainly experienced difficulties throughout his reign, he always found a way to bring thanks to God.  He recognized Him as sovereign Lord over all the earth.
     As the Psalm continues, we see something very important in verses 4-7:  "One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works, I will meditate.  They shall speak of the might of Your awesome deeds, and I will declare Your greatness.  They shall pour forth the fame of Your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness."  When we recount before our children and grandchildren the mighty deeds of God for which we give thanks, they will remember them.  We are charged with passing on our faith to the next generation.  What an awesome responsibility we have been given by God!  If for no other reason, this, in itself, is a reason we need to stop and give thanks.
     David goes on to give further reasons for praising God in verses 10-13:  "All your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless You!  They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and tell of Your power, to make known to the children of man Your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom.  Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,  and your dominion
endures throughout all generations."  It is a privilege to give testimony and make known the mighty works of God.  We do this every time we praise and thank God both in our worship as well as our every day work.  So what are the benefits of having a grateful heart before the Lord?
     In the remainder of the Psalm, David lists the attributes of our God and His provisions for us:  He is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works (vs. 13b);  God upholds those who are falling (vs 14);  He provides food (vs. 15);  He satisfies the desire of every living thing (vs. 16);  He is near all who call on Him (vs. 18);  He saves those who cry out to Him (vs. 19); and He preserves those who love Him (vs. 20).  Are these not enough reasons for us to celebrate a time of Thanksgiving?
     This holiday is more than the prelude to "Black Friday" sales and the Christmas rush.  It seems we hurry the calendar more each year.  Instead, we need to make time to tell our children all that God has done for us as a family and set an example of taking time to praise Him.  Put away the cell phones, electronic games and other distractions, and when it comes time to gather for the meal, simply thank God for His many blessings as the Pilgrims did.  We are a blessed people if we belong to God.  Let us not neglect this time of thanksgiving.  Selah!

Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons Jan Janssen in Germany.