The Spirit Within

It has been a most exciting and beneficial season for me as I have in recent months studied, pondered and written about the Holy Spirit and His relationship to our Christian lives. I hope it has been beneficial, encouraging and challenging to you as well.

As I stated at the onset, it has not been my endeavor to present a particular doctrinal position regarding the Holy Spirit and then attempt to persuade you to embrace that view. Rather, it has been my desire to explore, examine and articulate different reasonable doctrinal views and glean from those views some constants and/or similarities that might guide us to a more clear understanding of the Spirit’s role in our lives.

By way of a brief review, we have established that the Holy Spirit is regarded in scripture as a person and that person being a member of the triune Godhead and therefore fully God in essence.

Though He is oft referenced with imagery such as dove, wind, fire, water and oil, He is also titled with agencies related to personhood such as teacher, comforter, interceder and empowerer. He is also the personal agent who searches all things (I Corinthians 2:10), knows the mind of God (I Corinthians 2:11), teaches the gospel to believers (I Corinthians 2:13), dwells among believers (I Corinthians 3:16; Romans 8:11; 2 Timothy 1:14), accomplishes all things (I Corinthians 12:11), gives life to those who believe (2 Corinthians 3:6), and many more such designations found throughout the scriptures.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, He is the member of the Godhead who now not only dwells among us, but literally lives within us so that we might be who God intends and has purposed for us to be “in Christ.”

We’ve established that the Holy Spirit is the one who draws us, convicts us, transforms and indwells us fully, not partially. Being fully indwelt by His Spirit we are still instructed to grow and desire more of a constant flow of the Spirit in and through our lives by being continually filled with the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)

Especially in the last Praiseletter we examined terminology such as indwelt, filled and baptized in, by or with the Holy Spirit. We concluded that though there are varying opinions on the definition and application of these terms in our lives, we also agree they all have biblical precedent and assure us that the Holy Spirit works in us initially (at conversion), continually (through sanctification), and subsequently (through various giftings and empowering).

I use the word “we” in the sense that we have gone on this journey together and in an agreeable temperament have considered carefully all that has been presented. “We” is not used with a presumption that we all hold the same opinion on these matters. Most likely “we” don’t, however I don’t think it can ever be problematic to explore and discuss all we can about the precious Holy Spirit.

What is problematic and detrimental to spiritual growth and understanding is when we avoid the subject either in large part or altogether. This was my original concern and reason for diving into this topic. I fear the Holy Spirit has been greatly marginalized if not avoided altogether in many of our churches and thus in our personal lives.

This brings me to the final topic of consideration in this series of letters on the Holy Spirit. This last consideration is possibly the most complex, highly debated and doctrinally dividing issue. It is the issue of whether or not those spiritual gifts referenced, evidenced and experienced in the New Testament church are still available to the church today.

I’ll give you my simple answer up front; which is yes. Then I’ll give you my simplest explanation as to why I believe that, knowing at the same time I have greatly loved and respected brothers and sisters in Christ who hold a differing view and opinion.

If you’re not familiar with the term Cessationist, it refers to those who hold to a view that either some or all of the miraculous (sometimes called manifestation) gifts referenced most often in the Pauline epistles, have ceased. Thus, the word cessationist. Of course, there are varying opinions that have led to a cessationist viewpoint, but for our purposes here we’ll look at just the more prominent one.

Paul seems to almost interrupt his discussion of spiritual gifts with chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. In short, he intends to illustrate the superiority of love in relation to the power and practice of the gifts.

“Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

The particular and I believe most popular cessationist view hinges on the term, “the perfect.” In short, they define the term, “the perfect” as referring to scripture or more specifically the completion of the canon of scripture. Thus, now that we have the complete and “perfect” revelation through the canon of scripture, there is therefore no more need for the imperfect gifts.

Personally, I see (as do many others) some problems with this view that I will attempt to highlight in as simple a way as possible.

First of all, Paul addressed his letter to the church at Corinth around 55 or 56 A.D. The Apostle John wrote Revelation somewhere between 90-95 A.D.

Therefore, one must conclude that the miraculous giftings of the Holy Spirit, introduced by arguably one of the most significant steps taken by God in the history of mankind as He now literally dwells within a human temple, are to be utilized for a period of only 35-40 years.

In the context of 1 Corinthians 13 it would be like saying, “We can be sure that love will never end for we know that it will last for more than thirty-five or forty years.”

The real context is to contrast this age with the age to come: the return of Christ.

Secondly, I’m not aware of any place in scripture where the term, “the perfect” refers to parchments, manuscripts or written texts. Scripture however repeatedly points to Christ as perfect. (see Hebrews 2:10, 5:9, 7:28)

The perfection of Christ is a principle in Christology which asserts that Christ’s human attributes exemplified perfection in every possible sense.

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

Sinless = Perfection!!

I believe more sound biblical scholarship supports the idea that “the perfect” referenced in 1 Corinthians 13 refers to Christ, the Perfect One.

I believe there are numerous reasons to believe that 1 Corinthians 13 is referencing Christ and His return but for simplicity sake let’s take a look at just one more.

Thirdly, I would like to quote Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones to best articulate this position. He observes that the view that makes “when the perfect comes” equal the time of completion of the New Testament encounters another difficulty:

“It means you and I, who have the Scriptures open before us, know much more than the Apostle Paul of God’s truth…It means that we are altogether superior…even to the apostles themselves, including the Apostle Paul! It means that we are now in a position in which…’we know, even as also we are known’ by God…indeed, there is only one word to describe such a view, it is nonsense.”

I would recommend not using the word nonsense to address your cessationist brothers and sisters. Dr. Jones was a feisty soul! It seemed to fit him well, but it might not as much, you and me.

He does make a sound point however.

The “then” in verse 12 of 1 Corinthians refers to “when” in verse 10. If “when the perfect comes” is referring to the completion of scripture, we must now be realizing the “then” of verse 12 and therefore now are “face to face” and “know fully”, etc…

The verse in it’s simplest form would read, “When scripture is completed, then we will be face to face and know as we are known.” I don’t know about you but I don’t think I’m there yet, but I will be when Christ returns.

John Calvin said, referring to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13:

“It is stupid of people to make the whole of this discussion apply to the intervening time.”

I think Calvin here encourages us to not get caught up in the choosing of sides but to step back and see the larger context of God’s enduring eternal love contrasted against the temporal and imperfect.

Dr. Gordon Fee so wonderfully points out that Paul certainly did not see the gifts as neatly framed categories of ministerial, motivational or miraculous gifts as we sometimes observe in our “spiritual gifts” workshops.

Paul addressed certain gifts to the church at Rome because those were needed by them. He addressed certain gifts to the church at Ephesus because those particular gifts were pertinent to their situation. The church at Corinth was struggling with misuse if not abuse of certain gifts so Paul addressed that situation with instruction on gifts pertaining to their dilemma.

Though I am not quoting directly, I am confident and comfortable with the fact that I am properly representing Dr. Fee’s thoughts on this subject when I say that Paul would not have seen these neat little categories of gifts as we so often do.

He would, it would seem throughout his epistles, deem all these gifts and more as not only beneficial but essential to the growth, life and spiritual health of the church until Jesus returned.

There is so much more to explore and say regarding this present topic as well as all that we have discussed over the previous months. I hope and pray you will dig deep in the Word, read good books on the subject, “study to show yourself approved” so that you might know what you believe, why you believe it and be able to defend it soundly and fairly.

I feel I must say a deep and sincere thank you to Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Dr. Wayne Grudem and Dr. Gordon Fee. Their writings have greatly helped, influenced and enriched my understanding of the Holy Spirit and things related. When I have quoted them directly I have endeavored to always emphasize and indicate that by reference and quotation marks.

I must say however that many of the things I wrote from my own heart and mind (hopefully with the Spirit’s help) still resonated the voices of these great men and others from within my own being. All of this has been a quest to explore, understand, grow and experience the reality, power and presence of The Spirit Within.

Spirit of the Living God

We know from Romans 8:9 that, “If you don’t have the Spirit of Christ, you don’t belong to Him.” Notice it doesn’t say a touch of the Holy Spirit or some partial impartation of the Holy Spirit. No, the context both from the scriptural framing of that verse and the context of how the early readers of this letter would have understood it is, the person of the Holy Spirit, completely and fully must abide within every true believer. So, is this then the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit? The best answer I can give is yes and no, depending on particular definitions and terminology that certain groups, denominations or individuals employ.

Is a Christian indwelt fully by the Holy Spirit at conversion? The answer is yes. Is that Spirit filling which occurs at conversion the same as the filling of the Spirit referenced in Ephesians 5:18? The answer is no. The initial indwelling or filling by the Spirit at conversion is an introductory, non-repeatable (if you will) transactional event. I don’t believe in getting saved and re-saved because I don’t believe scripture teaches this. I do however believe in being filled (initially) with the Holy Spirit and being filled (subsequently) repeatedly and continually with the Holy Spirit. This is the picture that Ephesians 5:18 paints for us.

Remember, Paul is writing to, “…the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:1) Therefore, he is certainly not encouraging some first time event to transpire in their lives. It is assumed that these believers have already been fully indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s encouragement and exhortation to them is, as Dr. Wayne Grudem’s translation from the Greek so clearly and wonderfully articulates, “Be continually being filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Grudem’s Systematic Theology)

This then begs the question, can a person be indwelt by the Holy Spirit but not filled with the Holy Spirit? Depending on how you understand and use the terminology the answer is yes. This is an area where I received a couple concerned opinions from some pastor friends who felt there needed to be a little clearer understanding of the terminology regarding indwelt and/or filled. I agree, greatly appreciated their input and thus am attempting to give further understanding which I hope will be helpful to us all. I realize a lot of what we’re discussing is to a large extent a review of what we’ve already discussed. However, I feel this topic centered on the Holy Spirit is so important that it needs further and fuller discussion. My prayer is that this will all be most helpful to us in our growth in Christ. Thus, back to our question as to whether or not a Christian can be indwelt but not filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s keep in mind that when a person is converted, they are indwelt in full by the Holy Spirit. However, in the same way that a person can be fully saved but not continue in spiritual growth, is it not possible for a Christian to be indwelt fully by the Spirit but not be living a Spirit filled life as defined in Ephesians 5:18?

I believe the answer is yes. Paul addresses all his letters to the churches, the saints, the faithful, the brethren, to spiritual children and the beloved of God. Yet, much of Paul’s writing in all his letters is to correct sinful behavior, promote unity among the brethren, encourage spiritual growth and maturity and instruct clearly in regards to obedience and righteousness. He doesn’t discount their salvation or standing in Christ, but he clearly encourages, challenges and exhorts them to grow and mature in Christ.

There is therefore an initial point of conversion and also a subsequent living out or demonstration of the reality of that conversion experience through growth, obedience and holiness. These terms (and there are others) define and express the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I believe sanctification is both an initial setting apart unto Christ and an ongoing conforming to the image of Christ. I like what Oswald Chambers says: “We must work out that which He has worked in.” The same can be said of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. He has come to indwell us (initially) but also to continually fill us (subsequently) from day to day throughout our lives. Unfortunately, some groups, denominations and individuals have hijacked terms like “Spirit filled” and have explained them only within the context of their denominationally oriented doctrinal distinctives. I don’t say this with any malice or antagonism necessarily toward the aforementioned, but I do believe it’s helpful if not necessary to make sure our terminology clearly and consistently aligns with scripture. To some, “Spirit filled” means a person has experienced an event or a moment whereby the Holy Spirit has suddenly filled a Christian with His presence and this is validated or confirmed by an accompanying manifestation of speaking in tongues. To another, “Spirit filled” means that a person, group or denomination believes that all the “manifestation gifts” mentioned in I Corinthians are still in operation today. Let me say here, I agree that that which was available to the early church is still available to us today but I think it’s inaccurate to say or believe that’s all that “Spirit filled” means. I don’t discount that many Christians have had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that may or may not have been accompanied by a spiritual gift or gifts. To say that such an experience was a Holy Spirit infilling would be accurate, but I think it would be inaccurate to suggest that that’s all “Spirit filled” means.

I hope you see how terminology, even right terminology has often been misrepresented, misappropriated and thus misunderstood. I believe the Bible’s idea of Spirit filled living is allowing the indwelling Spirit of God to continually fill, control, guide, empower and evidence the reality of a risen Christ within us. It seems obvious to me and clear from scripture that His gifts will be necessary and most helpful in accomplishing this. And then there’s “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” I know we discussed this in the last Praiseletter but I believe we may briefly revisit it again for further understanding and clarity in our next letter. Indwelt, filled and baptized are all clearly valid and intentional descriptives of truth regarding the Holy Spirit. However, there is sometimes a kind of cross-pollination of these words that causes confusion if not trepidation. It is my hope and prayer that as we further explore these things from a biblical perspective, we will thus gain knowledge, diminish divisiveness and promote true spiritual hunger for all that the Holy Spirit would desire to accomplish in and through us. In the next Praiseletter I believe we’ll also discuss this aspect of whether or not those spiritual giftings, common to the New Testament age are to be expected and embraced presently. I think consideration of what is termed “The Apostolic Age” will be helpful to us in our understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Please contact us by Facebook, email or letter and let us know if these teachings are helpful. As I was writing this letter I kept thinking of and singing a song from long ago entitled “Spirit of the Living God”.

Spirit of the Living God fall fresh on me

Spirit of the Living God fall fresh on me

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me

Spirit of the Living God fall fresh on me.

Holy Spirit Baptism

The mere title of this letter conjures up doctrinal differences, emotional reactions and dogmatic opinions. Some people and/or denominations are so anxious to jump into the fray to support their definition of this particular area of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, that other equally, if not more important doctrinal considerations are largely overlooked or perhaps neglected altogether.

On the other hand there are those, who out of a fear often fostered by observing the misrepresentations and excesses of some in the “spirit filled” camp, have decided to maintain a somewhat safe distance from the “mysterious” Holy Spirit. This, coupled with a lack of sincere effort to diligently study scripture for a biblically based view of the Holy Spirit and all things related, has left many with little or no desire to explore the depths of true biblical spirit filled living.

In either of these two “camps” (and there are others) the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not properly understood or appreciated. Hence, the Spirit is grieved if not quenched, the Christian is ill equipped and the devil is all smiles!

I will not attempt to answer all questions related to Spirit baptism, nor even necessarily offer and support a particular doctrinal stance, encouraging you to do the same. What I will do is present a couple different opinions regarding Holy Spirit baptism from two slightly different doctrinal positions. In the end, I think we’ll find that in spite of slight differences we will draw a single important conclusion.

I will be oft referencing Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, (deceased) reformed, protestant minister at Westminster Chapel in London for almost thirty years. I will also refer to the writings of Dr. Wayne Grudem (Grudem’s Systematic Theology) who is presently serving as Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona.

I chose these two godly men because of the tremendous influence they have had in shaping sound theological and doctrinal thought through their writings, their lectures and most importantly their lives.Though they are just two men, they represent an extremely broad audience in the realm of theology and doctrine.

So, let’s get started. We have previously established in the last two Praiseletters that every Christian is spirit filled.

“But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9)

We’ve established that the Holy Spirit is fully God. (see: God the Holy Spirit, last PL)

The Holy Spirit is the regenerating force which draws us, convicts us, transforms us and indwells us.

Dr. Grudem states in his preface to systematic theology that: “I hold that baptism in the Holy Spirit is a phrase best applied to conversion and subsequent experiences are better called “being filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Dr. Lloyd Jones, in his book “Joy Unspeakable” presents just the opposite. He believes at conversion we are filled with the Holy Spirit, but the Baptism in (by or with) the Holy Spirit is a subsequent work. Though it may on occasion occur at the time of our salvation it is still to be distinguished from being filled or indwelt initially by the Holy Spirit.

You may wonder why I am attempting to put a fine point on these issues. It is because there has been such debate and differing opinions in this area that disunity has often prevailed, dysfunction has sometimes arisen and even divisiveness has crept in and wounded some in the flock.

How can two godly, brilliant bible scholars differ on this issue? It’s a matter of interpretation on each other’s part, but keep in mind, I think we will all draw a similar and encouraging conclusion even amidst differing opinions.

Dr. Grudem points out that, “there are only seven passages in the New Testament where we read of someone being baptized in (or with) the Holy Spirit.” They are as follows: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, and 1 Corinthians 12:13. (I encourage you to look up and read each of these.)

The 1 Corinthians 12:13 verse, which reads: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” is one area where differing opinions come into play. Does this verse carry the same meaning of Spirit baptism as the other six?

Without getting “too deep in the weeds” let me just say it depends largely on whether you accept the phrase “by one Spirit” or “in one Spirit.” Some English translations use “by one Spirit” suggesting that this verse differs from the other six.

Dr. Grudem explains, “Those who support the Pentecostal view of baptism in the Holy Spirit after conversion are quite eager to see this verse as referring to something other than baptism in the Holy Spirit… In all the other six verses, Jesus is the one who baptizes people and the Holy Spirit is the “element” in which or with which Jesus baptizes people. Here in 1 Corinthians 12:13 (so the Pentecostal explanation goes) we have something quite different – here the person doing the baptizing is not Jesus but the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they say, 1 Corinthians 12:13 should not be taken into account when we ask what the New Testament means by “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

Remember, this is but one opinion and explanation of this point in scripture.

Now, let’s look at another. Dr. Lloyd Jones believed in a subsequent work or baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit after conversion. Here’s how he handles 1 Corinthians 12:13:

“I want to demonstrate that this verse… (1 Cor. 12:13) does not deal at all with the doctrine of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.” Jones agrees with Grudem that the Greek word en is the word herein used in this verse but goes on to point out that this word is often used in Greek in a casual sense. For example: Matthew 24:52 says, “All they that take the sword shall perish with (or by) the sword.” Jones says, “And there is the little word en and it means, of course, perish by the sword. You could not possibly translate that…perish in the sword.” He goes on to give several other examples of the Greek word en to mean, by as well as, in.

Jones then goes on to use a quote by Dr. Wuest (The Untranslatable Riches from the New Testament Greek) to bring clarity to 1 Corinthians 12:13.

“The personal agent in this case who does the baptizing is the Holy Spirit. He places the believing sinner into the body of which the Lord Jesus is the living Head. We could translate therefore, by means of the personal agency of one Spirit we all were placed in one body.

It is not the baptism with the Spirit, or of the Spirit, in the sense that the Holy Spirit is the element that is applied to us; it is the baptism by the Spirit.”

Confused? It’s ok, I don’t understand all the nuances and applications of a two letter Greek word either. I’m no scholar and don’t claim to be.

What I do begin to see however, and I hope you do as well, is that there is a work that the Holy Spirit does in us at conversion and there is also an ongoing work that He does in sanctification and equipping for power to boldly witness.

Another verse we should look at where Grudem and Jones (as well as others) disagree, though not harshly, is John 20:22, where it reads as follows:

“…He breathed on them and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit.”

The question is, did the disciples actually receive the Holy Spirit before the day of Pentecost? This is significant.

Dr. Grudem writes, “When Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; it probably was an acted out prophecy of what would happen to them at Pentecost.”

I’ve heard this explanation often through the years and do not reject it, but I also find Dr. Lloyd Jones’ explanation quite enlightening and challenging.

“There is nothing in the text of John 20 that suggests this was a prophetic enactment. Take the words as they are and this is what you find: ‘Jesus said to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and he saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’

Surely if our Lord was merely telling them that this was going to happen to them, he would have done what he is reported as having done in Acts 1 where he tells them ‘Tarry ye in Jerusalem until…’ There he is telling them that something is going to happen and he puts it quite plainly and quite clearly. But there is no suggestion at all of that in John 20. He says, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’

Let me be still more specific. If you consult the learned authorities on the whole question of Greek grammar and the meaning of the words, you will find that they are unanimous in saying that in the Greek the word ‘receive’ in verse 22, is the aorist imperative. And the authorities are also unanimous in saying that the Greek aorist imperative never has a future meaning.

This is a purely technical point, but a very important one. So many of our friends, who hold to the other teaching, do so in terms of the Greek and the original. So let us meet them on their own ground. Here – and again I defy you to find a single exception – the authorities are all agreed in saying that the Greek aorist imperative never has a future meaning – and I would emphasize the word ‘never’. So you see, the very word that is used is a word that wants us to see that what we are told happened then, did happen then; that when our Lord said to them, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost,’ they did receive the Holy Ghost. But there is still more. When we are told that our Lord ‘breathed’ on them and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost’, this same word ‘breathed’, here in the Greek, is the word that was used in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament in two most important instances. The first is Genesis 2:7 which reads: ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.’ The other striking example of this is to be found in the book of the prophet Ezekiel in a very well known passage in chapter 37:5-9 – the vision of the ‘valley of dead bones’.

‘Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live…Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’

The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew word breathe used there, is exactly the same word as is used here in our passage, and surely this is a most significant fact.”

Again…disagreement, differing opinions but ultimately not highly problematic. The significance of Jones’ explanation of that verse is if the disciples did in fact receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them, then what happened at Pentecost had to be a subsequent work!

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Well Dallas, what do you think? Dallas, what about speaking in tongues?”

What I think is not all that important, but I will tell you.

But first, what did Jesus say the Pentecost outpouring was about?

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Some of you perhaps want to know my opinion on speaking in tongues and how it relates to this matter.

A traditional “doctrinal distinctive” of many pentecostal believers is, “The initial physical evidence of the baptism of (or in) the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.”

I personally don’t think scripture makes this case in a dogmatic doctrinal sense. I believe in all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and I believe they are still available to the church today for the edification of the church.

However, to single out one gift or others and say that if you haven’t experienced that gift or gifts, you have not experienced a Holy Spirit baptism, is not biblically accurate, in my opinion.

We know that on the day of Pentecost, the disciples spoke in other tongues, unlearned languages, so that all in attendance heard the gospel, each in their own language and 3,000 souls were added to the Kingdom. On two subsequent occasions (and a third implied), we know that people were filled with or received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.

However, there are numerous other mentions of individuals being filled with the Holy Spirit such as Elizabeth, Zacharias, Stephen and other references that say nothing of speaking in tongues.

I believe some people have in fact received a Holy Spirit baptism attended by speaking in tongues as well as other giftings, but I think to suggest that in the absence of a gift or gifts, a Spirit baptism did not occur, would be unfortunate.

This is the most challenging and difficult Praiseletter I’ve ever written out of the almost 300 I’ve penned.

There’s so much debate and division over this issue of Holy Spirit Baptism that it’s impossible to cover every area, address every idea and please every reader.

In the Spirit, with the Spirit, by the Spirit. Baptized, filled or received all seem to be terms that cause us to choose sides; at least in the way in which they are often used and explained.

So what can we gain from all this? What can we agree upon?

Again, we can look at Dr. Grudem and Dr. Jones and see that they both agree on an initial full entrance of the Holy Spirit into every true believer’s life. In reading their works, I can tell you they both agree on the ongoing sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in every Christian. They both agree that the Ephesians 5:18 command, “Be filled with the Spirit” refers to a constant and ongoing filling of God’s spirit. They both proclaim clearly that all the gifts of the Spirit are still working today and they both clearly and strongly encourage every believer to seek for more from the Holy Spirit. Call it a baptism, call it an in-filling, or call it as a “coming down” of His Spirit upon us: both would encourage us to seek for all the Spirit has and might delight to do in and through us.

I agree!

I’d like to add one more thing, though I know this has surely been my most lengthy letter to date.

I feel sure that some of this talk of the Holy Spirit Baptism, gifts, tongues, etc… has caused some of you to think I lean a little too far to “that” side of things and I need to embrace a more staunch reformed position in such matters. Actually, I do!

In my studies it’s been enlightening if not surprising that many, and I mean many, of the great old patriarchs of the faith such as Luther, Calvin, Whitfield, Spurgeon, Edwards, the Wesleys, Finney, Moody and many others, testify to a profound experience or experiences in their lives of the Holy Spirit impacting, transforming and flooding them with joy unspeakable, often years into their lives and ministries.

A baptism, an infilling, a fresh receiving of Holy Spirit power, would well define and describe what they experienced!

Let me close with a wonderful quote from that most staunch Calvinist, Reformed Baptist minister:

“O my soul! Thou art ready to burst within me. Oh my heart! Thou art swelled with grief. The hot tide of my emotion would well-nigh overflood the channels of my veins. I long to speak, but the very desire chains my tongue. I wish to pray, but the fervency of my feelings curbs my language. There is a groaning within that cannot be uttered. Do you know who can utter that groaning? Who can understand it, and who can put it into heavenly language, and utter it in a celestial tongue, so that Christ can hear it? Oh yes, it is God the Holy Spirit; He advocates our cause with Christ, and then Christ advocates it with His Father. He is the advocate who makes the intercession for us, with groanings that cannot be uttered.” Charles Hadden Spurgeon

Kinda sounds like he leans a little to “that side” too!

Friends…there’s more! The Spirit of God is limitless, eternal and present within us. Maybe we should worry less about what He doesn’t do and desire more what He might like to do in and through us.

I don’t know about you, but I have no hesitancy to say, “God, I want and need a Holy Spirit Baptism!”

God the Holy Spirit

The response from the last Praiseletter, Be Filled With the Spirit, has been most encouraging and has confirmed the notion that we should dig deeper and continue discussing biblical truth regarding the precious Holy Spirit.

I began writing a song some years ago that I am recently revisiting. It’s chorus reads as follows:

Take me farther and deeper in You
Show me all that You want me to do
Lord, please teach me to worship in spirit and truth
Take me farther and deeper in You

In view of the point where we stand in history and in the journey of our own Christian experience, we should all share this desire to go farther and deeper in the things of God. I believe a recognition of, a dependence on and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit will be essential to fulfilling this “farther and deeper” quest.

Even as I share that, some may feel a concern that may be expressed as follows: “But what about the Word; shouldn’t that be our guide in all things?”

The answer to that question is a resounding Yes! I love what A.W. Tozer says in regard to these considerations: “We will never understand the Holy Spirit so long as we terminate our thought upon Him. The scriptures always lead us on beyond every subjective experience to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (A.W. Tozer)

That is an extremely rich statement. Read it again! The person of, the ministry of and the proper functioning of the Holy Spirit will be to us, confused, if we define Him based on subjective personal experience. We must know and understand the Holy Spirit as He is revealed in the scriptures.

However, we know that one of the chief functions of the Holy Spirit is to teach or illuminate the scriptures to us; “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:3)

And what is all truth? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” (John 14:6)

Certainly there are a great many truths, but the essential, dominant one is that of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Do you see the synchronicity and cooperative genius, if you will, as to the plans and purposes of God regarding the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Word, as that which gives insight and understanding in all these areas?

No one comes to the Father except through Jesus and one cannot know who Jesus is apart from the truth of the gospel as revealed in the Word and illuminated by the Holy Spirit.

Thus Tozer goes on to say: “The Word without the Spirit is dry and dead, but the Spirit without the Word is incomplete.”

As I write these words in this letter, I realize that these and the words that will now follow are merely introductory preparations for our considerations of the Holy Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit. Let’s begin there. Is God the Holy Spirit and is the Holy Spirit God?

For some, that will seem a most elementary and easily answerable question. However, we must for our purposes of study herein acknowledge that there have been many historically and still to this day who denounce the very idea of a triune Godhead.

Now, before you “throw in the towel” (or throw away this letter) in fear that I’m going to embark on some mystical and complicated endeavor to explain the Trinity, let me assure you I am not.

I am going to assume that we are all “on the same page” when it comes to the triune character and nature of the Godhead.

Let’s agree with Tozer when he writes: “There is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal. So that in all things: the Unity in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.”

Now that’s a quite colorful and poetic way to put it, but I think, quite accurate and helpful.

I have at times throughout the years, tried to have discourse with those of a “oneness” or non-trinitarian point of view, but have found it frustrating if not exhausting! I’ve often said, “You can’t reason with the unreasonable.”

When in the very beginning God said, “Let Us make man in Our image…” (Genesis 1:26) it clearly speaks in the plural.

When Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord say, “Who will go for Us…” (Isaiah 6:8) it speaks of multiple persons.

Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father do. He prayed to the Father and taught His disciples to do likewise. He said He would send another, referring to the Holy Spirit, who was to come.

Scripture clearly indicates and articulates God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

As Luther so beautifully wrote and we so often sing, “God in three persons, Blessed Trinity!”

So, for our purposes herein and hereafter, let us agree that the Holy Spirit is God and the statement, “God the Holy Spirit” is biblically sound.

What are the personal implications of that for us? The words privilege and responsibility come to mind.

As we have already previously established, every true born again Christian has received and been indwelt by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:9)

If the Holy Spirit is fully God, which He is, then “fully God” has come to dwell within us in a way that was in Old Testament times, not known.

Neither was it known or experienced as abiding within, in New Testament times until the risen Christ breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 21:22)

Now some of you may be thinking, “Wasn’t it on the day of Pentecost that the Spirit was given?”

Hold that thought…

More on that in the next Praiseletter. (Very Exciting!)

Let us right now consider that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, has taken up residence within us.

Truly this is one of the most significant spiritual realities in all of biblical history! No longer in a tabernacle or a temple built by human hands, but God has come to dwell within the temple of our body that He Himself has fashioned after His own image. What a privilege!

But oh, what a responsibility!

We are to define and display the reality of a risen Christ within our bodies and our behavior by the presence and power of that same Holy Spirit.

This is why we must better understand who He is and how He wants to dwell within us, guide us and use us for His eternal purposes.

Fully God has come to dwell
Within my heart once bound for Hell
Grace bestowed and mercy shown
Have made for me a Heavenly home
His Holy Word I love to hear it
Breathed by God the Holy Spirit

In Christ,

Dallas Holm

Be Filled With the Spirit

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

  Ephesians 5:18

In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he reminds believers, especially in chapter five, to be imitators of God. He goes on to point out very specifically, areas of immorality, impurity and “deeds of darkness” to avoid at all costs.

He then encourages them to…”Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise.” Then he uses the imagery of wine as that which is poured out and poured into.

Many have used this verse to say God is using Paul to teach against wine consumption. This verse cannot be used to promote that idea. This portion of the verse, similar to other verses in the Bible, speaks against drunkenness.  In using this imagery, Paul is actually saying don’t be so filled with wine that you become drunk, but be so filled with the Spirit that you become transformed in essence, even in your behavior.

In the same way that wine can alter your essence and behavior shamefully, the filling of the Spirit can alter and transform richly and wonderfully. 

Paul then immediately goes on to discuss specific behavioral issues such as how to encourage one another, how to be thankful and how to be subject to one another. He continues on instructing in issues of marriage and our understanding of our position to the body of Christ, the Church.

Let me pause here for a moment and respond to some who may be thinking I’m in some way defending wine consumption. Neither my wife nor I consume any manner of alcohol. It’s simply a position we have taken and a personal conviction we hold. Scripture doesn’t speak against wine, but it’s quite clear on drunkenness and strong drink. To get hung up on the wine aspect of this verse is to miss the whole point.

The point is, “Be filled with the Spirit!” 

The actual Greek rendering of this would be, “Be being filled with the Spirit.” In other words it stresses the sense of continuation of filling and refilling.

Many have wrongly used this verse (along with some others) to suggest to a new Christian (or even mature Christians) that they may be lacking in some ongoing, subsequent work of the Spirit.

They would suggest that you are a Christian but perhaps have not yet received or been filled with the Holy Spirit. 

This is the point I want to discuss in this letter. I’ve addressed it previously at times in both my writing and teaching, but I believe it’s so important to get a proper biblical understanding of this that I am once again revisiting the topic.

Recently, on several occasions, I’ve had someone say something like this: “He (or she) is a Spirit filled Christian.” Or someone said, “I had some Christians pray for me but then I asked a Spirit filled Christian to pray.”

This kind of terminology begs the question, can a Christian not be Spirit filled? The answer is a resounding NO!

Sometimes when I’m teaching on this subject I like to ask my audience this question:  “Where is Jesus?” The answers range generally from, “In my heart, Heaven and everywhere” to an occasional finger pointed upward, I’m sure denoting Heaven (or perhaps on the roof).

All of these answers are to some degree or another correct (with the exception of the roof) but not quite specifically accurate. 

Specifically, according to scripture, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. Look up Acts 2:32-33, Acts 7:56 and Hebrews 8:1.

It isn’t altogether incorrect to say we received Christ into our heart, but it is really His Spirit that drew us, convicted us and took up residence within us when we trusted by faith in the finished work of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, believing in the reality of His resurrection and receiving the precious gift of salvation by grace through faith.

You may say, “Well, that’s just another way to say the same thing,” but it’s important to remember that Christ said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper (Holy Spirit) shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7

What hope could we possibly have, especially as new Christians, if we did not have His Spirit to help, comfort and guide?

But does scripture clearly indicate that every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit? The answer is a resounding YES!

“But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Romans 8:9

This verse is crystal clear. If you don’t have His Spirit, you don’t belong to Christ. But if you do belong to Christ, you therefore have His Spirit. 

I am especially emphasizing the importance of knowing that as a Christian you are indwelt by His Spirit as we enter this new year. 

2020 is here! We must possess 20/20 spiritual vision as we go forward in life’s journey amidst ever increasing evil, apathy and distraction.

In the future I hope to discuss further aspects of the Holy Spirit such as, are the infilling and baptism of the Holy Spirit the same thing? What are spiritual gifts all about? Can we have a partial infilling of His Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit fully God?

These and other questions are worthy considerations for us to explore, but first and foremost it is absolutely essential that we understand that every true Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of God.

I recently read a quote by A.W. Tozer that challenged my thinking in this area and encouraged and directed me to write to you about these things.

“In most Christian churches the Spirit is quite entirely overlooked. Whether He is present or absent makes no real difference to anyone. Brief reference is made to Him in the doxology and the benediction. Further than that He might as well not exist…

Our neglect of the doctrine of the blessed Third Person has had and is having serious consequences. For doctrine is dynamite. It must have emphasis sufficiently sharp to detonate it before its power is released…

The doctrine of the Spirit is buried dynamite. Its power awaits discovery and use by the Church. The power of the Spirit will not be given to any mincing assent to pneumatological truth. The Holy Spirit cares not at all whether we write Him into our creeds in the back of our hymnals; He awaits our emphasis.”

A.W. Tozer

I believe it can be argued that we as Christians today, live with the greatest privilege in the entire history of God’s people.  Since the day of Pentecost, the only true and living God has chosen to literally take up residence within us completely and continually. We must consider this great privilege fully and heed His specific command diligently. Be Filled With the Spirit!

Tis The Season

Yes, once again the holiday season is upon us and it seems to have arrived on a swifter schedule than last year and all previous years.

Like a line from a song I wrote years ago:

The years they come and go
Like clouds on a windy day
The moments pass so swiftly
Our lives just slip away

I stopped by our local hardware store just the other day and already, in the early part of November, Christmas decorations, trees, lights and all related items were up and ready for purchase.

It really does all come too quickly!

At the risk of having this letter read like one of those blow by blow, diary/travelogue volumes occasionally received at year’s end from some distant relative or friend (who you’re not totally sure you even know), I felt I should update you as to where we are and how we’re doing as a family. Also, I want to share some insight as to our future ministry plans. I do this because we’ve had so many friends email or write us asking about Linda’s health and the health of our daughter and son.

This year has been a tough and challenging one for our family. You may remember that at the first of the year our daughter was diagnosed with a rare cancer. At the same time, my wife, Linda, had a severe reaction to a new immunotherapy trial she was on. It put her in bed and eventually in the hospital. The total “down time” for her was almost six weeks. Then, in the midst of all this, our son began having severe anxiety attacks.

A friend of ours said, “You’re going through a cluster bomb attack!” That’s exactly what it felt like.

I’m pleased to report our son, Jeffrey, is doing much better. He still has occasional bouts with anxiety, but nothing like when it began.

Our daughter, Jennifer, is doing very well. The cancer was completely removed surgically. There were some lingering complications from the surgery that persisted for months, but these issues have been almost totally resolved.

Linda continues to wage war against her thirty-two year nemesis of breast cancer. It’s taken a lot from her through the years, most recently the craniotomy of almost three years ago now. Because of the effects of the craniotomy and subsequent radiation, her mobility and balance have been compromised. This has prohibited her from traveling with me most of this year.

Let me pause here a moment and assure you that God’s grace has indeed been sufficient throughout this “bumpy” part of the road on life’s journey.

I mentioned that much has been taken from Linda through the years of her struggle with cancer. However, I must testify that way more has been given to us because of God’s grace and faithfulness in the midst of the struggle.

A song Linda often sang says it best:

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase
To added affliction He addeth His mercy
To multiplied trials His multiplied peace

Annie Flint Johnson

Linda and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary on the 27th of this month. We have been abundantly blessed with a wonderful marriage, two wonderful children and five amazing grandchildren.

He has given us the marvelous privilege of being “co-laborers together with Christ Jesus” throughout the years of ministry, particularly through Praise Ministries. Many souls have been won to Christ, lives rescued, and families healed because of God’s faithfulness to use us in ministry.

We will continue to minister. People often ask me, “How long are you going to keep ministering?” I always reply by saying, “As long as I have breath and opportunity.”

Someone asked me the other day if I was retired. I responded by saying, “I don’t think so.”

We’ve had to cut back our traveling dates and will probably continue to do so because of health issues and age. (I turned 71 in November.) Not old, but I can tell you, I can’t do it all as easily as I used to.

Fortunately we live at a time when we can continue to minister very effectively without always having to travel somewhere to do so.

Many have commented how much they love and appreciate our online ministry through our website, Facebook and YouTube.

The newsletter, the daily posts, the “Stories Behind the Songs” have been such a blessing to so many, hopefully to you.

We plan to expand our ministry opportunities online in the coming year. I think you’re going to really like and appreciate that.

Stay tuned!

I’ll continue to take a limited number of concert dates and speaking engagements, but we’re at a point in our lives where we have to make some changes. Tis the Season of our lives!

I believe we’ll be even more effective in ministering to those God brings into our care, as we steward our time, talents and treasures of God’s grace.

Please continue to pray for us as we seek God for direction, for strength to run the race and for His Spirit’s anointing on all we do in the name of ministry.

I recently read a marvelous verse and comment by Charles Spurgeon that was a great encouragement and blessing to me. I share it here in hopes it will similarly encourage and bless you.

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.

Isaiah 49:16

“Behold,” is a word intended to excite admiration. Here, indeed, we have a theme for marvelling. Heaven and earth may well be astonished that rebels should obtain so great a nearness to the heart of infinite love as to be written upon the palms of His hands. “I have graven thee.” It does not say, “Thy name.” Thy name is there, but that is not all: “I have graven thee.” See the fulness of this! I have graven thy person, thine image, thy case, thy circumstances, thy sins, thy temptations, thy weaknesses, thy wants, thy works: I have graven thee, everything about thee, all that concerns thee; I have put thee altogether there.

Charles H. Spurgeon

As you celebrate the Christmas season, whether at a family feast, exchanging of gifts around a Christmas tree or just in simple solitude, remember the greatest gift; that of our Savior.

Remember, God’s great gift in a wooden manger and His great sacrifice on a wooden cross.

Remember the tiny Christ child’s hands that reached up to touch His mother’s face, but also remember these same nail pierced hands that reached out to save sinners like you and me.

And lastly, remember that we are graven in these same hands.

Reflect, Rejoice, Respond.

Tis the Season!

Christ and Him Crucified

Why do I do the things I do
Why do I say the things I say
Sing the songs I sing
Pray the prayers I pray
Why do I push myself so hard
To go the second mile
Knowing my reward
May only be a smile
Well there’s a picture in my mind
That time can’t erase
And there’s a memory from days gone by
That helps me keep my place

It’s in the front of my mind
In the back of my mind
To the left and to the right
There’s an image of a man on a cross

Image of a Man | Dallas Holm

A number of years ago I was making my way to the back of an auditorium where I had just completed ministering in concert and in word.

About halfway back a young man stepped in front of me and asked, “After all these years, what keeps you going?” Without a moment’s hesitation I responded, “The image of a man on a cross!”

In that moment, my answer seemed to satisfy the young man’s question. It also caused me to consider that it might be a good idea for a song, which as it turned out, it was.

The apostle Paul, in writing his first letter to the church at Corinth, prioritizes the essence of his ministry and the central issue of true Christianity when he writes:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:1-2)

It has been suggested that by the time Paul (previously Saul) was 21 years of age, he had the equivalent of two Ph.D.s in theology. It is not likely that Paul is saying, nothing else is important to discuss or that the only topic henceforth will be the crucifixion of Christ.      

He is not promoting the idea that any further discussions regarding such significant events as the resurrection, the return of Christ or any vast array of other important topics like grace, obedience and conforming to the image of Christ need not be articulated and considered. What he is doing, for the purpose of highlighting and emphasizing the central issue of the atonement through the shedding of blood, is using hyperbole.

R.C. Sproul puts it this way:  “When the apostle made that statement (I Cor. 1:1-2) he obviously was engaged in the literary art of hyperbole. The Greek prefix hyper is the source of our word super, and it indicates a degree of emphasis. Hyper takes a root word and makes it emphatic. In this case, the root word comes from the Greek verb “to throw”. So, hyperbole is literally a “super throwing”; it is a form of emphasis that uses intentional exaggeration.

Sproul goes on to illustrate how we might say to a child, “I’ve told you a thousand times not to do that!” Everyone, including the child, knows that statement hasn’t been offered a thousand times, but the exaggeration is born, not out of deceitfulness, but out of an intent to bring emphasis.

We know Paul wanted to teach the Corinthians about the character and nature of God the Father. He would instruct them about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. He would teach them Christian ethics, and about many other things that go beyond the immediate scope of Christ’s work on the cross.

Sproul puts it this way, “Paul was saying that in all of his teaching, in all of his preaching, in all of his missionary activity, the central point of importance was the cross. In effect, this teacher was saying to his students, “You might forget other things that I teach you, but don’t ever forget the cross because it was on the cross, through the cross and by the cross that our Savior performed His work of redemption and gathered His people for eternity.’”

Does the reality of the cross and what transpired through the substitutionary atoning work on Calvary’s mount, truly arrest our thinking and motivate our living?

Has the cross become just an emblem over the baptistry, an ornament around our neck, or do we remember, as Oswald Chambers states, “The most significant words ever uttered in a startled universe are the words, It Is Finished!”

Do we only consider the cross and Christ’s suffering in an historical context or do we actually consider ourselves “crucified with Christ”? Is it personal? Does it cost us?

Why should I care what others think
What do I care what others say
When He has won my heart
And I have found my way
What do I care what it may cost
Though it may cost my all
To walk the narrow path
And hear His silent call

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

I’m constrained by the love of Christ
I’m compelled to express His life

Cause in the front of my mind
In the back of my mind
To the left and to the right
There’s an image of a man on a cross

I remember one day years ago my dear friend, Leonard Ravenhill, said to me, “Dallas, there are lots of Christians who like to hang around the cross. Not many of them want to get on it!”

I think perhaps, better than any other way I can imagine, that statement demonstrates exactly Paul’s understanding and perspective of the cross, both for himself and for these who he would teach, which includes us.

May we not be as those who just hang around the cross, but may we reckon ourselves crucified with Christ.

In all our learning, our experience and in the great adventure of life’s journey, may we each stay forever focused on the central bedrock and eternal fact of “Christ and Him Crucified.”

Called to be Saints

Just recently I was having lunch with a very dear friend of mine. He’s a wonderful man of God, a most effective minister of the gospel and a tireless discipler of men.

We’ve known each other for many years and in recent years we’ve tried to connect more often over a weekly lunchtime meal, though we rarely can get our schedules to cooperate every week.

Still, we manage to quite regularly get together. We often refer to it as an “Iron sharpens iron” moment as we encourage one another from the Word, discuss biblical doctrine and just enjoy the fellowship we have in Christ.

Recently, during one of our lunches my friend said something to the effect, “I would never be so bold as to compare myself to an apostle Paul.” I responded immediately by asking, “Why not?”

I remembered David Wilkerson preaching many years ago and in the course of presenting his sermon he challenged all those listening to consider that every great man and woman of the Bible had only twenty-four hours in a day, same as us.

What set them apart in the assessment of their lives, ministries and true sainthood is how they spent their lives over the course of those twenty-four hour days.

Shortly after my friend and I had that brief exchange over lunch, I read the following entry from Charles Spurgeon in his wonderful devotional, Morning and Evening. It seemed to put an exclamation point on our previous discussion.

“Called to be saints.”

Romans 1:7

We are very apt to regard the apostolic saints as if they were “saints” in a more especial manner than the other children of God. All are “saints” whom God has called by His grace, and sanctified by His Spirit; but we are apt to look upon the apostles as extraordinary beings, scarcely subject to the same weaknesses and temptations as ourselves. Yet in so doing we are forgetful of this truth, that the nearer a man lives to God the more intensely has he to mourn over his own evil heart; and the more his Master honours him in his service, the more also doth the evil of the flesh vex and tease him day by day. The fact is, if we had seen the apostle Paul, we should have thought him remarkably like the rest of the chosen family: and if we had talked with him, we should have said, “We find that his experience and ours are much the same. He is more faithful, more holy, and more deeply taught than we are, but he has the selfsame trials to endure. Nay, in some respects he is more sorely tried than ourselves.” Do not, then, look upon the ancient saints as being exempt either from infirmities or sins; and do not regard them with that mystic reverence which will almost make us idolaters. Their holiness is attainable even by us. We are “called to be saints” by that same voice which constrained them to their high vocation. It is a Christian’s duty to force his way into the inner circle of saintship; and if these saints were superior to us in their attainments, as they certainly were, let us follow them; let us emulate their ardour and holiness. We have the same light that they had, the same grace is accessible to us, and why should we rest satisfied until we have equalled them in heavenly character? They lived with Jesus, they lived for Jesus, therefore they grew like Jesus. Let us live by the same Spirit as they did, “looking unto Jesus,” and our saintship will soon be apparent.

If the true goal of our intimate relationship with God is conformity to the image of Christ, then is striving to attain a similar standing as the historical saints of scripture not only a possibility but a requisite?

Paul emphasizes this fact as by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he reminds the gentile believers in Rome (as well as us today) that we are “Called to be Saints.” (Romans 1:7)

His Way is in the Whirlwind

“In whirlwind and storm is His way. And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.”

Nahum 1:3

On Saturday, April 13th I left Lindale, Texas, my hometown, to travel to San Antonio, Texas, for a couple of ministry opportunities on the 15th.

I had been watching the weather report for a few days and they were all predicting bad weather and the potential for severe storms across central Texas into East Texas.

I had a choice to make. I could take I-20 west to I-35 and head south all the way to San Antonio. However, with storms in the forecast, I feared that one accident on I-35 might back it up all the way to Minnesota!

I chose to take Hwy 79 which heads southwest from near where I live to Austin, TX, and from there San Antonio is just a short jaunt.

Highway 79 is mostly two lanes meandering through the beautiful piney woods and small towns of East and Central Texas. I was in no big hurry and this route would have far less traffic and provide a much less stressful and more peaceful journey than the interstate…or so I thought.

As I continued to drive toward Austin, I encountered some rain off and on but nothing to be concerned about.

After about three hours of driving, the rain began to pick up some and the sky began to darken. I kept driving slower and slower as I turned the windshield wipers up faster and faster.

I had slowed to about 20 mph when suddenly I couldn’t see a thing, not the road, not the sky…Nothing!

I carefully angled over toward the shoulder (or where I thought it must be), turned my flashers on and came to a stop. I noticed just barely, through the wind swept rain and darkness, that there appeared to be a couple of vehicles very close in front of me with their flashers on as well.

Then the excitement began!

Extremely strong winds began blasting the driver’s side of my truck. Large tree limbs and various debris were sailing overhead from left to right. Then…sudden calm. I remember thinking in that moment, “I don’t think this is good.”

No sooner had that thought been completed in my brain than I was suddenly and violently slammed from the passenger’s side by even stronger winds. I felt something slam the rear of my truck, then the front and then multiple projectiles of various sizes pelted the right side of my truck.

At one point I gained enough visibility to look out to my right and see a large piece of corrugated metal roofing from a barn come sailing across the pasture in my general direction.

Then suddenly it became less general and more specific as it slammed the side of my truck, eventually scraping up and over and finding a resting place in a tree top across the road.

I felt on a couple occasions that my truck might take flight. I was extremely concerned that something might come flying through the side window or windshield and mess up my hair, not to mention the rest of my anatomy, which quite frankly, at 70 has begun to get a little messed up anyway! (Yes, humor intended)

Well, enough of all the catastrophic details. What did I learn from this buffeting from the elements?

I learned (later that evening) that I had come to a stop on Hwy 79 directly, and I mean directly, in the path of an EF-3 tornado. That’s 140mph winds!

I learned that I had stopped right next to the little town of Franklin, TX, which I did not know was even there until the storm passed. Fortunately no one was killed, though about half the town was destroyed. (I’m working on doing a benefit concert there sometime in the near future. Sort of feel a connection with those folks.)

I learned a car just in front of me had flipped upside down in the ditch. The couple in it were a little bloodied and bruised but otherwise okay. As “luck” would have it, I found the lady’s purse a couple hundred feet away from their overturned car. She was delighted; I was blessed! No luck involved, God’s kindness!

I learned my Toyota Tacoma is just heavy enough to not fly, though I believed it was sitting at a slightly different angle when the tornado had passed then where it was at the start.

Lastly and most importantly, I learned I can pray in great earnest with a really short vocabulary. It went something like this, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” and so on. You get the picture.

Franklin, TX, was devastated but no one was killed. My truck sustained over $9,000 worth of damage, but I am fine.

I was able to fulfill my two ministry dates and souls were saved, lives were touched by the gospel and God was glorified.

But how is God glorified in the whirlwind or perhaps we should ask, is He?

Is He the God of sunny days but not the stormy ones?

Isaiah writes by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in chapter 45:6-7: “I am the Lord and there is no other, The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity: I am the Lord who does all these.”

I’ve thought several times, “What were the chances of me driving about three hours, traveling at roughly 65 mph and intersecting with an EF-3 tornado at precisely the moment it’s crossing where I’m sitting on Hwy 79?”

I don’t think there’s any chance to it! If I’m walking humbly before the Lord, living in obedience to His word and moving by the leading of His Holy Spirit, then wherever I am is where He has me.

What are the chances of us traveling down the road of life enjoying the “Sonshine” of His love and then suddenly intersecting a dark storm and turbulent circumstances?

Again, nothing to do with chance! We must be ever maturing in our understanding of who He is and growing in our knowledge of the Word so that we are at peace both in the calm days and the stormy ones.

We must be assured of His presence in the midst of brilliant light as well as shrouding darkness. Finally, we must grow in our overall understanding and grasping of the sovereignty of this eternal, holy, awesome God we serve.

We are not as a ping pong ball getting smacked back and forth by some cosmic game of “Pong” between God and Satan.

We know from that oft quoted scripture that Paul writes to the believers in Rome, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord and are the called ones according to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28)

The very implication of this verse, and that which would have been understood by those first to hear it is that “all things” would refer to the ups and downs, the easy and the difficult, the joyful and the sorrowful. All things!

It’s why I love that rather obscure little verse from that obscure little book of Nahum.

It assures me that whether I’m being buffeted from the left or the right; whether or not debris is whirling all around me and even if I take flight as I nearly did in my truck; I will fly to Him! He is my refuge. He is in the whirlwind and the storm, and the clouds…what about those clouds?

Scripture says, “They are but the dust of His feet.”

In other words, the clouds that often suddenly darken our day and loom ominously overhead, are actually the evidence of His presence. They are the dust of His feet!

Scripture tells us He goes before us, He is our rear guard, He walks beside us, He undergirds us and He sings over us.

Much like that tornado that enveloped me all around, on every side, above and below…”His way is in the whirlwind.”

God is Good!

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good except God alone.”

Mark 10:18

We know intellectually that God is good, for scripture assures us He is. But do we know experientially that He is good, when we find ourselves in the midst of bad or difficult circumstances?

The last Praiseletter I wrote to you was entitled, “Be Anxious for Nothing.” In it we explored God’s admonition from scripture to have no anxious thoughts. We talked about prayer, supplication and thanksgiving when making our petitions known to God with an expectation then of His incomprehensible peace coming to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (See Phillippians 4:6-7)

The day after I wrote that letter our daughter, Jennifer, was diagnosed with a very rare cancer. Jennifer is the one who helps proof and type these letters.

It was a memorable and difficult moment to hand her my rough draft of the letter, “Be Anxious for Nothing” so she might read, proof and type it for our ministry friends.

Having just endured the shock of a difficult diagnosis it was wonderful timing on the part of the Lord to place that message in her hands in such a timely fashion.

Jennifer had surgery, the cancer was contained and removed. She has had some lingering post-op issues but we believe they will soon be resolved. She is doing really well; praise God!

A short time after Jennifer’s surgery, my wife became ill. We initially thought it was some kind of flu but her doctors felt it might be a severe reaction to the immunotherapy trial she had begun. To date she has been down for over a month with extreme fatigue, abdominal discomfort and some other unfortunate side effects.

As I write this letter we have calls into some doctors to get guidance in addressing this condition.

While Linda was down in bed and quite weak, her dear sister, Brenda, passed. Linda was too weak to attend the memorial service which, of course, was very hard on her. I officiated Brenda’s memorial and shared from scripture the wonderful hope we have in Christ in the midst of these difficult circumstances. Brenda was a beautiful Christian who loved and served the Lord faithfully, but it was so sad that Linda couldn’t be there.

As the TV info-mercials say, “But wait, there’s more!”

A little over two weeks ago our son, Jeffrey, began having severe anxiety attacks. It’s so unlike him to be anxious or panicked. Yet wave after wave would assault him almost daily, sometimes hourly. He’s doing better, praise God, but it’s been a tough stretch for all of us.

Why do I share all this bad news with you?

It’s kind of like a line from that goofy old song they’d sing on Hee Haw every Saturday night: “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

Well this has nothing to do with luck, good or bad. It has nothing to do with some lack of faith or some hidden unresolved sin that is wreaking havoc with the lives of God’s children.

It has to do with God’s sovereign eternal plans and purposes to strengthen our faith through testing, conform us to the image of Christ through suffering and display living testimonies of God’s sufficient grace so that others may be encouraged and strengthened in their trials.

I really hesitated to share all these personal struggles because some of you are enduring things way beyond all I have shared. We know this to be true in our church family and we know it’s true in our family of ministry friends like yourself.

But in the midst of all this and on behalf of all of us I want to testify: God is good! He is faithful! His grace is sufficient!

“In all these things He is working for our good because we love HIm and He has called us unto Himself for His purposes.” Romans 8:28

Dear friends, please pray for us and know that we are praying for you! Say it with me, “God is good!” Say it out loud so your ears can hear what your heart believes.

“God is good!” “The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.”

Psalm 145:9