Wednesday, March 27, 2013



Missionary John Hyde went to India a little over a hundred years ago. He felt a strong calling to the nation of India and began to spend hours in an attempt to learn the culture.  Then the day came. It was in 1892 that he boarded a steamer in New York bound for the nation of India. On the ship, John received a telegram from a close family friend.  He opened it hurriedly on the deck of the ship. The only words of the telegram were, "John Hyde, are you filled with the Holy Spirit?"  John's response was one of frustration, anger. He crumpled the paper, put it into his pocket and went to bed. Unable to sleep, he tossed and turned all night.  He arose from bed in the early morning hours, took the piece of paper and read it again. He thought, "The audacity of somebody to ask me that question, 'Am I filled with the Holy Spirit?'  Here I am a missionary, sincere, dedicated, leaving my home and going to another country. How dare they ask me if I am filled with the Holy Spirit?"  Wasn't he equipped for his call? After all he had received a B.A. degree, studied the language, was even on the way and was determined to pursue his destiny.  Yes, he was on his way, but Hyde's spirit was challenged by the note. After much soul searching, he fell to his knees before the Father.  "O God," he cried out, "the audacity of me thinking that I could pray or preach or witness or live or serve or do anything in my own strength and power. Fill me with your strength. Fill me with Your power."  John Hyde became one of the great missionary statesmen of all time. Why? Because of the Spirit which enabled him to face the challenges of his life in the power of God. (From "Praying Hyde", Basil Miller, copyright 1943, Zondervan).  A rather poignant story, I believe.  And such is the case for anyone who is open to the call and leading of the Holy Spirit.  He enables us to be God’s people…and we will see more of this here in this passage.

As we were discussing last week, believers are going to face persecution in this world (John 15:18-27), but God has given us the opportunity to overcome through the power of His Holy Spirit (16:1-15).  For three years, Jesus has been with His disciples to protect them from attack, but now He is about to leave them.  He has already shared this fact with them (13:33).  These are His last hours with the disciples and so, He is trying to impress upon them matters of greatest importance.  Jesus explains why it is important for them that He must return to the Father.  The major reason is that the Holy Spirit might come to empower the church for life and witness.  Also, as their ascended Savior, He would be able to intercede for His people in the heavenly places.  How does the Holy Spirit encourage believers when they are facing the hatred and opposition of the world?  It is primarily through the Word of God, but certainly not exclusively so.  The Word is the sword of the Spirit that He uses to teach us and train us to be the people God has called us to be (Ephesians 1:16-17).  The Spirit wields the sword in our lives.  The Spirit also witnesses to us and through us during our times of Paul shares with the Romans (8:16, 26-27), He helps us to know what to say, and helps us in our prayers.  And through all of these things, He bears fruit in the lives of those who belong to Jesus (Galatians 5:22, et. al.).

In context of this passage, times of persecution have always been times for the church to be able to witness for the Lord.  We must always be ready “to give an answer” when we are called into question or are attacked.  Apart from the power of the Spirit of God, we cannot give a clear witness for Christ.  It is important to note that the Spirit comes to the church and not to the world.  He works in and through the church…at least He is supposed to do so.  The Holy Spirit works in and through the people in whom He lives.  And in this section, we see that the Spirit comes to reprove.  “Reprove” means “to bring to light, to expose, to refute, to convict and convince”…which is quite a mouthful.  It could also be translated, “pronounce a verdict.”  The world may think that it is judging Christians, but it is Christians who are passing judgment on the world as they witness to Jesus Christ.  In a sense…to use a court room illustration…believers are the witnesses, the Holy Spirit is the prosecuting attorney and the unsaved are the guilty prisoners.  However, the purpose of this indictment is not to condemn, but to bring salvation.  The Holy Spirit convicts the world of unbelief, in general, and it also convicts the sinner of the need for righteousness, who is Jesus Christ, in person.  The Spirit reveals Jesus Christ in the lives of believers.  It is important to note that we are not to be “the prosecuting attorney” in and of ourselves…we are not to be the judges…but, are to be receptacles whereby the Holy Spirit can convict and convince.  So, the world cannot receive or see the Spirit of God, but they can see what He does as they observe the lives of believers.  What the Holy Spirit convicts the lost sinner of…is judgment.  When a lost sinner is truly under conviction, he will see the folly and evil of unbelief.  He will confess that he does not measure up to the righteousness of Christ, and he will realize that he is under condemnation because he belongs to the world and the evil one (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Jesus is the only one who can rescue him (as with any of us).  There can be no conversion without conviction, and there can be no conviction apart from the Spirit of God who uses the Word of God and the witness of the child of God.  When the Holy Spirit would come to the disciples, He would teach them and remind them of what Jesus had taught them.  The Spirit would also guide them into all truth.  And as we have seen, the Holy Spirit does the very same thing for all of us.

Susan Cosio, a chaplain at a medical center, writer, and mother of three, writes one of the best messages I have seen regarding the Holy Spirit and life, “I believe in a daily walk just to listen. I believe I have to remove myself from the voices that barrage me in order to find my true compass. This includes a daily walk just to listen. The guiding light of my life is the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. In our hectic, noisy world, I have to slow down or withdraw in order to hear it. Prayer, I have discovered, is less about what I say and more about what I hear.  Discerning God’s voice is not so hard when I make time to listen closely. Sometimes I hear it as a sudden insight when I step back from a situation. Other times, it’s a deep sense of my priorities, or a conviction about something I should do or say. I often take a walk with a pencil and notepad in my pocket, and return with notes for a speech or a piece of writing. Later, someone tells me she was moved by the words I’d scribbled on that paper, and I know my prompting came from God.  My pursuit of spiritual truth is not about religion as much as it is about relationship.  I believe in a daily walk to listen because it is when I am close to God…and that is when I find my way. And I am most at peace when I tune out the voices of the world long enough to hear the still, small voice of God directing me. “Be still,” Psalm 46 reminds me, “and know that I am God.” [This I Believe: Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, “A Daily Walk Just to Listen,” Susan Cosio, (New York: Henry Holt, 2006), 43-45]  When we listen to the Lord and how He desires to work through the Holy Spirit, we are able to hear His voice, and this is the beginning of wisdom and growth.  Submit yourself to His leading in order that God can grow you to be the person that He desires for you to be, and so that you can withstand the persecution that comes from the world.

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Opposition and Proposition


In a report on by Michael Carl from September 17th, 2012, two U.S.-based religious freedom groups say that anti-Christian persecution is on the rise in America.  The joint report by Texas-based Liberty Institute and Washington-based Family Research Council says government agencies around the U.S. are trying to push Christian expression out the door.  “It is dramatic,” says Liberty Institute Founder Kelly Shackleford, of the recent hike in reported incidents of persecution.  “There are children being prohibited from writing Merry Christmas to the soldiers, senior citizens being banned from praying over their meals in the Senior Center, the VA banning the mention of God in military funerals, numerous attempts to have veterans memorials torn down if they have any religious symbols such as a cross, and I could go on and on,” Shackleford said.  Christian civil rights organization senior counsel David French says many of the new cases come from colleges.  “Our knowledge of incidents is only as good as the reporting,” French says.  “However, it’s clear that – particularly on college and university campuses – we have seen a significant rise in attempts to silence Christian organizations by the misapplication of nondiscrimination laws.”  French adds that many public facilities are also covering over Christianity.  “One of the most strident examples: the misuse of the Establishment Clause to attempt to ban any mention of God from historical markers, monuments or even museum exhibits,” French says.  “This represents an effort to whitewash God from American history and change our national identity.”  And this has not all occurred since 2008…“the seeds for these attacks were dropped in Supreme Court opinions in the ’40s, and it really began to take off in the 1960s.  The thing that is shocking now, and different, is that the attacks have dramatically picked up speed,” Shackleford says. “There can be as many as 100 new attacks per month.   While Liberty Institute has the highest win rate of any group in the country (at over 99 percent), we just can’t currently cover all these with our current resources.”  This is the world that we live in today, a pluralistic world of religion, and much of it is no longer friendly toward Christianity.  But, jumping to end of the “story”, we can put on our rose-colored glasses, for in this section, Jesus provides this important message -- "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33, NIV)

There are two important themes that run together in this section of John (15:18-27) – the opposition of the world against Christianity and the ministry of the Holy Spirit to and through God’s people.  Jesus has been talking about love, but now He discusses hatred.  The contrast between the way Christians are to treat one another and the way the world reacts to Christians could not be more evident.  Jesus has already mentioned that persecution will come…back in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:10-12), and in His commissioning message (Matthew 10:16-23).  Throughout John is it evident that as Jesus ministers for three years, the religious establishment not only opposes Jesus, but seeks to kill Him…there is a tide of open resentment, hatred and then open opposition against Him.  We must clarify what “the world” is, because it is really a three-fold concept -- it can mean the created world, (John 1:10), the world of humanity, (John 3:16) or society apart from God and opposed to God.  Sometimes, we call this this third aspect “the world system”.  This is what I have typically called it in order to differentiate.  From a Christian perspective, it involves all of the people, plans, organizations, activities, philosophies, values that belong to a society without God.  Some of these matters are cultural…but all have their origins in the heart and mind of sinful man and promote what sinful man wants to enjoy and accomplish, and so are corrupt.  What may seem right to the flesh is so wrong to the Spirit and to the spirit.  Christians must not love the world system (1 John 2:15-17) or be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2).  Jesus tells His disciples that their situation in the world will be serious and even dangerous.  If worldly people hated Jesus, they will also hate those who are identified with Him. (15:20)

When we trusted in Christ, we moved (or at least we were supposed to move) into a new spiritual position…we are now “in Christ” and “out of the world (system).”  We do live in the world physically, but are not to be of it spiritually.  This does not mean that “we are so heavenly-minded that we are not any earthly good,” but it means that we consider the things of this world from a different point of view.  The world system functions on the basis of conformity, and as long as a person follows the fads and fashions and accepts the values of the world, he or she will “get along.”  But, the Christian refuses to conform to the world. The believer is a “new creation” and no longer wants to live “the old life.”  It is apparent that we must live in a world of persecution and opposition, but how do we do it? What is the secret to success?  It is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Jesus sends God’s personal power, the Holy Spirit, to indwell His people (Acts 2:38-39).  If we did not have the Holy Spirit within, we would not be able to serve the Lord in this present evil world.  We are to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), “worship in the Spirit” (Philippians 3:3, and “witness in the Spirit” (Acts 1:8). Believers can stand and withstand in the midst of the world’s hatred because of the special ministries of the Holy Spirit.  We will pursue this in the next section of John’s message.

Steve Goodier shares this -- when Henry Ward Beecher was a young boy in school, he learned a lesson in self-confidence, which he never forgot. He was called upon to recite in front of the class. He had hardly begun when the teacher interrupted with an emphatic, "No!" He started over and again the teacher thundered, "No!" Humiliated, Henry sat down.  The next boy rose to recite and had just begun when the teacher shouted, "No!" This student, however, kept on with the recitation until he completed it. As he sat down, the teacher responded, "Very good!"  Henry was irritated. "I recited just as he did," he complained to the teacher.  But the instructor replied, "It is not enough to know your lesson, you must be sure. When you allowed me to stop you, it meant that you were uncertain. If the entire world says, 'No!' it is your business to say, 'Yes!' and prove it."  The world says, "No!" in a thousand ways:  "No! You can't do that."  "No! You are wrong."  "No! You are too old."  "No! You are too young."  "No! You are too weak."  "No! It will never work."  "No! You don't have the education."  "No! You don't have the background."  "No! You don't have the money."  "No! It can't be done."  And each "No!" you hear has the potential to erode your confidence bit by bit until you quit altogether. Though the world says, "No!" to you today, will you determine to say, "Yes!" and prove it?

The world says “no” to the way we want to live for God…but the Holy Spirit empowers us to say “yes” to God and “no” to the world system.  Many believers want to have their cake and eat it too, as it relates to the fundamental spiritual battle that we face, but as Word of God reveals – if you willingly live compromised with the world system, then you are not Jesus’ friend…and furthermore, you quench the Holy Spirit’s power in your life.  I have seen the warning signs in people's eyes and heard it in their speech on numerous occasions (unfortunately).  The evil one is always looking to cause individuals to stumble by sowing seeds of discontentment, discouragement and distraction.  We must guard our hearts and minds, keeping sensitive to the heart and the will of the Lord by doing some regular self-examination, telling ourselves the truth with honest self-talk, standing firm in our commitment to spiritual disciplines and in our relationship with Him and our spiritual family.  We have a choice to make…and sometimes it occurs even on a daily basis…will we trust in the power of God through His Spirit in order that we will live like Jesus, or will we compromise our witness?  Be salt and light.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

World View


Here is some food for thought as it relates to interpretation.  As I read different articles and posts, I am amazed at how so many people can read the same book, particularly the Bible, and come up with so many different interpretations of it. What we call our "world view," "philosophy" or, our personal setting in life (including the sum total of our experiences, our personality and our culture) affects how we view things and it has a profound influence upon how we view all matters pertaining to life and godliness. For some people, the Bible is a set of laws and rules -- truth is the highest priority, whereas for others, the message is about grace and love -- spirit is the focus. It is amazing how closely connected these two concepts really are (see John 4:24) and yet, how they can be so far apart...but only from a human perspective.
As I have shared in other places that going to extremes is what gets us into trouble as it pertains to our interpretation of the Bible and concerning life itself. It almost seems like our human nature cannot help itself...that if one person offers "one side" of an issue or "perspective", that there is also "the other side" or "other perspective(s)" that has to come to be expressed. Everyone has a world view and it is is subjective. Most people fully believe with all their hearts that, "my world view is 'right to me' and no matter what anyone says, nothing external is going to change my mind!" And this is true. Change can only come from the heart and it has to come from yielding, submitting ot the Lord, whatever your perspective might be. Some will say, "I will never change!" This is a choice. Others are very adaptable and are willing to change and to grow. But, it is all a revelation of our world view.
I will say that I believe that some individual's and group's world views are in a better place than others. This is because some people's world views are more open to insight, which I believe is a good thing. I have known both open-minded and closed-minded individuals who are truly good people. Sometimes those who are more "open-minded" are right, and sometimes they are wrong...sometimes the more "closed-minded" are right, and sometimes wrong. As for me and my house, we choose to be open.  I believe that there is a genuine spiritual (and eternal) benefit from being more open-minded in relationship to spiritual concerns, and I will continue to challenge people to adopt such a mindset...while all at the same time seeking to do our best to love and respect individuals' regardless of their particular world views. Blessings...


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Are We Defined By Fear or Faith?


I admire the spirit of some of my friends who desire to engage in good and spiritual dialogue with brethren of a different persuation...only to find closed-mindedness and fear.  I am grateful that the Lord and His Spirit helped to break me out of such religion.  There should be no fear in being open to Bible study and discussion...only opportunity for growth.  I have heard all of the "slippery slope" and "your brains will fall out" (foolish) arguments, and the bottom line is and love cast out fear, and also bring a good perspective and understanding of godliness and spiritual life.  If we are growing in a trusting, revealing relationship with the Lord, there should be no (personal) fear or control...only being under the influence of the Spirit's control. 

The following is an article I wrote a few years ago, but am sharing here, because I think it is appropriate, "To Know Fear Means No Fear."  We live in a culture enamored, or in some cases, engulfed in fear. There is hardly a week that goes by but that I see someone on facebook talking about the need to "live by faith rather than fear." Why? It is because they see "fear" everywhere, as well. We hear about companies who are canning CEO's and employees, colleges that are punting coaches, and churches that are running off elders and preachers. We have all manner of movies, books and other cultural phenomena, including the "horror genre," that promote fear in some form or another. Some are engrossed in these things out of curiosity, while others have more sinister agendas.

We humans are certainly easy targets, as our fleshly, human nature is so easily swayed by fear and other negative emotions. Fear is the tool of the is precisely what Satan desires for all of us. I have seen more "fear" in churches than "faith" in some respects. This ought not be the case. People who are under the influence of fear say things like..."I don't know where this will lead," "we've never done it this way before," "let's go back to the way it was" or "I don't like change"... these are all effective "fear" statements. But, the irony is that, for those who live by faith, this is exactly right. Looking at it from a faith perspective -- we don't know where many things will lead, but this is why we trust the Lord, or...we know that change is inevitable, what can we do to make it work for us instead of against us. A good faith statement to counter-balance "fear" statements might be, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." It is not the cowardly and fearful in society that are remembered for their great acts, but it is those who step out with courage and boldness -- those who choose to live according to faith.

When we are focused on things that are going to bring fear, then that is what we will receive. Fear has, what I would say is, its "not-so-little" friends, such as worry, anxiety, cynicism, pride and perhaps, greatest of all...anger, which, when out of control, can lead to bitterness and hate. Once we give in to one negative emotion, it is easy for one or more of the others to step in for support, and even take over, as they tend to do. I have known people in my life, particularly younger ones...physically or spiritually...discouraged and distraught, because they are held captive by some who are bound by fear. And this all leads to another important partner of fear...and this is "control." When people are fearful, they are insecure...the two work with, or rather, against each other. The irrational thinking is -- if I can somehow control my surroundings, then I will be able to have peace, happiness. But, this is not going to happen. There is a vicious cycle to this that has no good or happy ending, because control leads to even more insecurity, because if something even threatens "control"...even a little...then control has to tighten its grip, which in turn, turns loose even more anxiety, worry, pride and anger, etc.

There is a good solution -- let go! We have to be able to trust the spiritual leadership...and see what good can be done. We need to see the glass half full...not empty. We must adopt the attitude of David, who when he was threatened by Saul and had opportunity to take "control" of his situation by killing Saul, said, "Why would I strike down the Lord's anointed?" He trusted the Lord, and the Lord not only rescued him, but prospered him. David did not choose to give in to fear...being afraid, but chose to live by the other, submission and respect. It is faithful to exercise "caution," in doing such...that is, to be wise and prudent about taking reasonable steps of faith, but we must not give in to an attitude of cynicism, which paralyzes. We can choose to live faithfully, and this brings about a positive trust leads to greater grace, love, joy and genuine peace (all the fruit of the Spirit, in fact) -- a much more productive place to be and a better way to live.

Blessings, Don

Sunday, March 3, 2013



If I could, I would make sure you never lost at anything. But what would you learn from winning all the time? Losing keeps you humble.
If I could, I would catch you when you fall. But then you'd never know the power of rising up again.
If I could, I would take you directly to your life's destination. But then, you'd never know the thrill of getting lost along the way.
If I could, I would find the love you long for, the love of your life. But then you'd never know that the joy of true love is in the journey it takes to find it.
If I could, I'd make your days all sunny. But then you'd never know the cleansing of the rain.
If I could, I'd surround you with the treasures of the world you live in. But then you'd never appreciate the value of the treasures of the world within you.
If I could, I'd put happiness within your reach. But then you'd never learn that real growth only comes from reaching for things beyond your grasp.
If I could, and I will...I'll love you until my last breath of life and through eternity.  Bob Perks

“If” is one of the shortest and yet most interesting words in the English language.  We certainly get our fill of it in English class where we learn that it is combined with “then” in order to make conditional statements.  What we do understand concerning “if” is that…debating over what might have happened had Germany won WW2 or should Napoleon have won at Waterloo is an exercise in futility.  But, when the “ifs” are left out of these last chapters of Leviticus, then we miss the meaning.  The word is used 32 times.  The history of Israel cannot be fully understood apart from the “ifs” in God’s covenant.  For the Israelites were to be responsible for fulfilling God’s covenant.  For example, 26:3 says, “If you walk in my statutes, then you will have blessings…”  The conditions are laid out by God, and His people must make a decision concerning Him.

The Almighty God is not some idol that the people manufactured.  He reminds them, “I am the Lord your God.”  In spite of Israel’s promises to obey the Lord, however, the Jews broke the first two commandments by turning to idols.  If they had been true to God by keeping the laws, the feasts, the Sabbath, etc., these matters would have been a reminder to them that they were supposed to be God’s special people.  They should have fully understood that God dwelled among them…in their camp…in the sacred tabernacle (and later in the temple).  How could they think of disobeying Him when He was so near?  The “so-called” gods of the other nations were nowhere “near” to them.  God promises His children many things, but they are just this -- “children” in their faith.  They need to learn and grow as all children must do.  God promises rain, faithful harvests, peace and safety in their land in order to multiply their population…if they will enjoy the tremendous blessing of His presence.  This is the most important thing…and every other blessing depends upon it.  This is something that has not ever changed – right living has always been about God’s presence in our lives.

Israel’s privileged position brought with it the responsibility to obey and glorify God.  Yet, as the privilege is forsaken, the Lord sends chastisement, discipline.  There are six periods of judgment mentioned here for Israel.  The first five punishments are concerning the land…and for the sixth, they are taken out of their land and dispersed among the nations.  As he did with Pharaoh, God was turning them over to the desires of their hearts, and they would feel the “terror” of such. God’s purpose was to break down their stubborn pride.  The rains would cease, the ground would become hard…no crops would grow.  They would put forth great toil, but there would be no harvests.  Still, they would refuse to repent.  Next, there would be invasions of wild beasts that would kill the cattle and the people.  Warfare, famine and plague would follow…and enemies would conquer and destroy them.  As their hearts would remain hardened, ultimately God removes them from the land at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians to be taken away and disciplined.  By His mercy, He brings back a remnant of Jews, but they are not really ever the same again.

It seems strange that this book should end with a section regarding vows, instead of some demonstration of God’s glory and holiness…but, as with many of these other matters, there is a purpose.  God want his people’s hearts.  There is opportunity for them to show their allegiance to Him and His will.  The promises (vows) of God’s people should be as unbreakable as His covenant with us (Proverbs 20:25).  The vows given to God are strictly voluntary and expressions of the worshipper’s gratitude to God for His blessings.  It begins with the dedication of individuals.  A worshipper might dedicate himself to the Lord or bring a family member or servant to serve the Lord for life at the sanctuary.  Animals dedicated and redeemed are considered holy, or set apart, which means they would belong to the Lord.  Property, likewise, is able to be dedicated and redeemed and would also be considered holy to the Lord, but the owner would have to add twenty percent to the amount when he gave redemption money to the priest.  And there were other things that could be dedicated and redeemable.  Ultimately, this would all change with the completion of the old covenant, some 400 year after the people’s return from exile.  For those of us who live under the second or “new” covenant, God dedicated His Son.  He made that commitment through a covenant of (His) blood in order that our sins would be washed away so that we could live forever.  God still expects His people to make the most of their opportunities to give their hearts to Him…to accept His Son as their personal Savior…and live genuinely spiritually.

An American traveling in Syria became acquainted with a shepherd.  Each morning he noticed the shepherd carrying something to the sheep.  The traveler followed him one morning and found that he was taking food to one particular sheep that had a broken leg.  As the traveler looked at the animal, he said to the shepherd, “How did the sheep break its leg…did it have an accident or was it attacked by a wild animal?”  “No,” said the shepherd, “I broke this sheep’s leg myself.”  “You broke it yourself, but why?”  “You see, this has been a wayward sheep…one that would not stay with the flock, and in fact, would lead other sheep astray.  Then, it would not let me near it.  I could not approach it, but when I finally did connect with it, I broke its leg so that it might allow me, day by day, to feed it.  In doing this, it will come to know me as its shepherd.  It will learn to trust me as its guide and keep with the flock.”

Like Israel and the sheep, we humans tend to go astray from time to time.  If we do not find a way to humble ourselves and bring ourselves back in line, the Lord will provide discipline for us in order that we will come to understand and follow His will.  We need to keep ourselves humble by walking with the Good Shepherd, Jesus, on a daily basis.  When we are able to do this, we avoid most of the same mistakes that prideful Israel made.  In addition to this, we will be a blessing to the Lord and to those around us whom we serve.  We don’t have to settle for a mediocre faith, as most of the Israelites did.  We have every opportunity to make wise choices in our lives under this new covenant that will be to our spiritual and eternal benefit.  God’s faithfulness to His Word and to His covenant should be great assurance to us…He always keeps His promises.  If we give our lives to Jesus Christ and live for Him, one day He will return and take us home with Him…there are no ifs ands or buts about this…simply the fulfillment of promise.

Blessings, Don