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

Be Anxious for Nothing

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Philippians 4:6

I wrote 2019 on something the other day and once again I was caught off guard as to how swiftly the previous year had flown by.

A new year suddenly stretches before us with all its unknowns; hopes for “smooth sailing” but always aware that the “storm clouds” could gather on the horizon at any moment.

What should our spiritual temperament be as we once again sail out through the breakwaters of a new year’s beginning into the vast sea of life’s possibilities?

The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the church at Philippi: “Be anxious for nothing!”

Is this some extreme concept of denial he is promoting? No, not at all. Another translation might say as follows: “In any and all of life’s circumstances, be not anxious.”

Then he (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) instructs us how to accomplish this. “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known.”

What’s the difference between prayer and supplication? One might say prayer is the method of our petitions and supplication is the attitude of our prayers. Supplication denotes humility in prayer. A humility that goes so far as to say, “Nevertheless not my will but Thine be done.”

I believe there is a direct correlation between the lack of our anxious thoughts and the maturity of our Christlike character as evidenced by the development of our faith and trust in Him.

Last Sunday as my wife and I were sitting in our Sunday School class, I looked around at my brothers and sisters whom we have come to know and love.

Our class is not large, maybe forty or fifty people. A couple rows away sat a young couple who just recently lost their teenage daughter in a tragic car wreck. Across the aisle from me sat a man who is in a stage four cancer situation. A couple rows behind us sat a lovely couple, about our age, who are now walking through the difficult journey of a Parkinson’s diagnosis in his body. Another couple with very heart-breaking challenges with a child. And there Linda and I sit, still waiting for some news regarding treatment for her cancer.

On and on it goes throughout our church family, in our community and undoubtedly in yours as well.

So, how can I/we minister to those all around us in similar circumstances? Always and forever by the truth of God’s Word!

I believe it was the next day after this assessment of the needs all around us that I read this wonderful writing from Charles Spurgeon that I would like to share with you in hopes that it will encourage you as it did us.

O child of suffering, be thou patient; God has not passed thee over in His providence. He who is the feeder of sparrows, will also furnish you with what you need. Sit not down in despair; hope on, hope ever. Take up the arms of faith against a sea of trouble, and your opposition shall yet end your distresses. There is One who careth for you. His eye is fixed on you, His heart beats with pity for your woe, and his hand omnipotent shall yet bring you the needed help. The darkest cloud shall scatter itself in showers of mercy. The blackest gloom shall give place to the morning. He, if thou art one of His family, will bind up thy wounds, and heal thy broken heart. Doubt not His grace because of thy tribulation, but believe that He loveth thee as much in seasons of trouble as in times of happiness. What a serene and quiet life might you lead if you would leave providing to the God of providence! With a little oil in the cruse, and the handful of meal in the barrel, Elijah outlived the famine, and you will do the same. If God cares for you, why need you care too? Can you trust Him for your soul, and not for your body? He has never refused to bear your burdens, He has never fainted under their weight. Come, then, soul, have done with fretful care, and leave all thy concerns in the hand of a gracious God.

(From: Morning and Evening
By: Charles Spurgeon)

I know I’ve said this before, but allow me to repeat it once again: “Fret not thyself, fear not and be anxious for nothing” must apply to any and every situation or they have no application whatsoever!

His sufficient grace must assure us and give us confidence that even in the midst of our “shipwrecks” He is doing “all things well,” contrary to our temporal observations and assessments.

And what is the fruit or benefit of this discipline of guarding against anxious thoughts?

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

As is often the case, many of us have embarked on the journey of a new year making various resolutions.

I’ve resolved (now that I’m 70) to take better care of myself: eat better, exercise more, lose weight and build muscle. You have probably made similar or varying resolutions yourself. Good for you! But wouldn’t it be far more beneficial to us all if we resolved, according to God’s Word to guard against anxious thoughts?

If we are His, He will always be faithful to grant us grace, minister His mercy and lavish His love upon us through every circumstance.

“Be Anxious for Nothing!”

Lord I’m Waiting

Just recently I was re-reading the chapter entitled “Waiting” from my book, Words of Hope and Comfort. I mentioned in the book that Waiting is one of my personal favorites of all the songs I’ve written. However, I couldn’t remember (and still can’t) exactly when, where or why I wrote it. I did surmise, after a brief examination of my discography, that I wrote it somewhere around 1985-1986.

I’ve often said that, personally, I most clearly discern God’s guidance by looking in the “rear view mirror”. In other words, I’ve never heard an audible voice telling me where to go or what to do. I move ahead by what I discern to be the leading and prompting of His Holy Spirit.

However, that leading and prompting must be consistent with and derived from the revealed truth of His written word. In this mode of traveling through life, faith is the key component. I must believe by faith that God is who He says He is, that His Word is true and that the Holy Spirit will be a faithful guide through all of life’s challenges and seasons.

Faith is vindicated when I look in the “rear view mirror” and see that God was surely faithful to lead and guide, even in those stretches where I had no specific or strong sense of His guidance.

Thus, when I now look back at the song “Waiting”, I see how God was preparing me for a stretch of life’s journey that was not yet in view.

Can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel
Can’t see that far down the road
Waiting in darkness I’m tempted to stumble
Weary from bearing this load
Desperately weighing all of my options
Scheming to find my own way
But after all of my planning is over
This is the most I can say

Lord I’m waiting Lord I’m waiting
And I’m not going to move
Till I’m able to prove Your will
Lord I’m waiting Lord I’m waiting
Listening for You with my heart

Nineteen eighty-seven was a most critical and significant year in Linda’s and my life as well as in our ministry. That year we disbanded as Dallas Holm and Praise and I began to minister as a solo artist. That same year Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer and thus began our now thirty-one year battle against this disease.

At this point I want to share with you where we’re at in our lives and ministry and where I think God may be leading us going forward.

As of the writing of this Praiseletter, I have just turned 70. Wow, seems like I got here faster than I planned! I’ve ministered in over 5,000 concerts, traveled somewhere between 3 and 4 million miles and am preparing to enter my 50th year in full-time ministry.

There’s nothing magical or uniquely significant about any of those numbers, but they do give me pause to stop, reflect and “wait” on God for direction in regard to the journey ahead.

In fact, after assessing the journey in the “rear view mirror” and trying to determine the path forward, I felt for the first time ever to literally take a brief sabbatical. After discussing this with Linda, my board members, my pastor and other ministry friends, Linda and I both felt strongly that this was directed of the Lord. Thus, you may have noticed we cleared our tour schedule for October, November and December.

We’re “Waiting” before the Lord.

Lord it’s so easy to find a solution
Something that seems right to me
But plans that are born out of my own confusion
Will not help my blind eyes to see
All of the steps that You’ve laid out before me
Steps that are Yours and not mine
So I’ll be content just to wait in Your Presence
Patiently biding Your time

In this sabbatical season of waiting on the Lord, Linda was faced with another issue regarding treatment for cancer. The medication she was on was creating some adverse side effects in her liver. Her oncologist took her off that and has been looking into and recommending a new immunotherapy trial for us to consider.

Our doctor went on to say, “One of the downsides of this protocol is that you’ll have to be home for a few months due to the checkups and monitoring of this particular therapy.” We had already made the decision to take a sabbatical. Now we knew one of the specific reasons why, it seemed.

As of right now, we’re still waiting on the details regarding the trial, if and when Linda will begin and what other options might still be available.

Linda is feeling well, has continued to strengthen since her craniotomy almost two years ago now. She sends her love and most sincere thanks for all the prayers and support you’ve given us through this long and often difficult ordeal. She says often, “We’re so blessed!” And we are!

Someone asked me recently, “Well, are you about ready to retire?” I responded by saying I’ve never come across any concept in scripture that would suggest retirement from ministry is a biblical idea. We may retire from certain vocational aspects of ministry and/or our calling can change and lead to different approaches to ministry, but retirement from ministry is not an option.

I can’t tell you what the next season of our lives and ministry looks like, but I can tell you we’ll continue to serve Jesus with our whole heart, mind, body and strength.

We may not travel as much but will still go out when and where God leads. I have a heart to mentor and help some of those younger in the ministry who may need and desire some parental, pastoral and seasoned input in their lives. It should always be the responsibility and privilege of the older to teach and help the younger.

Linda and I don’t know exactly what that looks like but we’re praying about it. Please pray with us.

We’re waiting on the Lord about all these things, both personal and ministry related. Will you wait with us? Will you pray with us and for us?

I often say, when we pray, God doesn’t start thinking up an answer but there already remains an answer. It’s just a matter of conforming to His will and patiently waiting for His perfect timing.

Lord I’m waiting Lord I’m waiting
And I’m not going to move
Till I’m able to prove Your will
Lord I’m waiting Lord I’m waiting
Listening for You with my heart

Rescue the Perishing

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save
(Fanny Crosby; William Doane)

I am writing this edition of the Praiseletter on the 17th anniversary of the 911 terrorist attacks, September 11, 2001.

Watching the news this morning and viewing the solemnity of individuals at “ground zero”, reading the names of those who perished that tragic day, I am once again brought back to the shock and horror of that terrible event.

Like most of you, I remember exactly where I was when the news of the attacks began to unfold. We had just left on a tour to Washington state. Somewhere around the Colorado, Wyoming border, heading north on I-25, we began to hear reports on the radio of a plane crashing into one of the trade towers in New York.

We pulled the tour bus over to the side of the road, turned on a TV inside the bus and began to process the horror of a terrorist attack against our people on our soil.

I think for many, myself included, some of the most shocking and heartbreaking images of that day were of the people who chose to leap to their deaths from that burning building rather than endure the anguish of the consuming flames.

Those of us who witnessed the events of that day will never forget. Those who were too young to observe or understand must be taught and reminded of the historic cost of freedom that this nation has paid and continues to pay.

The death toll of the 911 attacks stands at 2,996. That’s a staggering loss! Here’s a breathtaking statistic as well; In the U.S. approximately 6,775 people die every day! Disease, accidents, crime and a number of varied reasons account for this staggering number of daily deaths.

While I wrote that last sentence, the phone rang and the wife of a long time friend called to let me know that her husband, my friend, had just passed. This is the reality of life and of death. Scripture tells us clearly: “And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement.” (Hebrews 9:27)

Everyone we know, everyone we see around us daily has an appointment that will be kept.

This may seem to be a dark and disturbing topic to cover in this letter, but I believe it’s imperative that we as Christians maintain a proper perspective on the reality of death so that we might live with a proper perspective of our lives as Christians and our responsibilities to those around us who are perishing.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness
Chords that are broken will vibrate once more

Continuing on the theme of “Gospel Missionaries” from last Praiseletter, I implore you to ever consider the call He has placed on each of our lives to rescue the perishing and care for the dying.

You are the most qualified person in the universe to reach someone God has placed in your sphere of influence, with the message of the gospel!

They won’t come to my concert, they won’t come to your church or perhaps any church, but because of the relationship they have with you (in God’s divine order), they may find life in Christ.

Then the question becomes, “are you prepared to share the gospel of Jesus Christ when the opportunity arises?”

In Christ, I was blessed just a couple days ago to have a conversation with the man who led me to faith in Christ. I thanked him for his obedience and concern to, all those years ago, talk to a young man who had a lot of “rough edges,” about the love of Jesus and His power to save and forgive. I also reminded him of a piece of advice he gave me early on in my Christian walk, which I now regard as perhaps the single most important piece of advice I’ve ever received.

One Sunday morning as I was making my way to sit down, my pastor (the one who led me to Christ) asked if he might have a word with me. I responded, “Yes, of course.”

During this early season of my Christian life I began to receive many invitations to come to various churches and sing and share my testimony. I was occupied many a weekend with this new and exciting ministry opportunity.

This particular Sunday morning to which I refer, my pastor gave me the following advice: “Dallas, you’re going to have all of your life to minister but only this one chance to prepare. Stay home (in church), let me teach you, disciple you and build a foundation for your life and ministry on the Word of God. Go out occasionally to develop your ministry and necessary skills, but most importantly take this time to prepare, study and grow in the knowledge of His Word.”

Too many Christians have experienced the life changing reality of the truth of the gospel because someone shared that truth with them. Yet they have not taken the time or effort to prepare and build a foundation on the Word of God so that they might present that same gospel to others.

We must be, as the saying goes, “ready, willing and able” to at any moment as the Spirit guides, share the truth of the gospel message with those who are perishing.

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (2 Timothy 4:2)

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide

Beck to the narrow way, patiently win them
Tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died.

My challenge in this letter to each and every one of us is to be sure we are prepared to share the wonderful saving, healing and comforting message of the gospel with those all around us who are perishing and dying.

Remember, we have each been commissioned to go, preach and disciple!

Direction for the “going” will be guided by His Word and His Spirit. The words of our mouths and examples of our lives must “preach” the reality of the gospel. “Disciples” will only be made as we build a foundation of the Word of God under their feet.

We can’t expect to replicate if we can’t articulate!

Let us each consider this an assignment to dig deeper, study more and prepare so we might effectively present the gospel to the needy who surround us every day. In so doing we will Rescue the Perishing.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save

Gospel Missionaries

I recently had the privilege of speaking to a missionary organization. As I was preparing for our time together, I thought of the many missionaries we have known through the years. I reflected with great joy on the missionaries we have been privileged to support through the years in such far away places as China, Africa, South America and Central America. We’ve also supported missionaries here in America serving among the Native Americans, inner city outreaches and prison ministries.

I have always been impressed with the sacrifices that these chosen ones are willing to make to spread the Gospel, win souls and advance the Kingdom of God here on earth.

I’ve long enjoyed reading books about missionaries; how they grew up, how they sensed God’s call on their lives and the great adventure of surrendering to that call.

Often times and it would seem in most cases, surrendering to that unique call of service brought with it tremendous challenges, difficult circumstances and often great sorrow.

I remember back in the 60’s, hearing of a man named J.W. Tucker, a missionary to the Congo, who was killed on Thanksgiving day, 1964. I was in bible college in 1966 when I was exposed to his story by way of a slide presentation. At the end of that presentation, the question was asked, “Who will go to fill this vacancy?”

At this point, I had only been a Christian for about a year and I had never considered such a possibility. The chapel where the Tucker story had been presented was finally empty of all the students except one. Me!

‘Til the wee hours of the morning, I knelt and prayed, trying to ascertain whether or not God wanted me to prepare to fill that vacancy in the Congo.

Finally, it was as though I sensed the Lord almost laughing (just an impression I had in my mind) as He resolved for me the issue at hand.

I concluded that it wasn’t that He wanted me to go to the Congo, but He wanted to know if I’d be willing, should He so lead (pretty sure He already knew). I settled that issue right there, long ago. Yes, I’ll live my life and exercise my ministry with a willingness to respond to Your leading, whenever and wherever that may be.

In reflecting on all these things as I prepared to share with the missionary organization I mentioned previously, I thought one of the most difficult and intimidating challenges for those called to bring the Gospel (especially to unreached areas) must be in considering how to tell someone about God who has never heard about Him.

This thought took me to Romans chapter one. I know I’ve read this book many times through the years but, as is often the case, this time I saw something a little more clearly.

In the sixteenth verse of Romans one, Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”

In other words, the power of God to save the lost is inherent in the message of the Gospel itself. It is not our talent, our intellect or our persuasiveness that will “win the day”.

Neither is it our competency!

Understand, we should all employ the talents He has given, the knowledge and wisdom He has imparted and with a
passionate concern, seek to persuade those who desperately need a Savior. However, these are all just tools to present the gospel.

The power to save is not in the tools but in the message of the gospel. Competency might be defined as the ability to efficiently use all the tools at our disposal to help achieve a successful outcome.

But even in this, the power of the gospel to save is not resident within the realm of competency but rather and solely within the message itself.

This should be a great encouragement and relief to us all, as we are most aware of our own inabilities and shortcomings.

None of this is an excuse to resign to do less or settle for sloppiness but rather to illustrate the difference between the presentation of the gospel and the power of the gospel.

Let me say clearly here, we are all missionaries! We have each been commissioned to “Go into all the world, preach the gospel and make disciples.”

“All the world” may mean across the ocean, across the country, across the street or across the table, but every true believer has been commissioned. About this, there can be no debate.

Whether on some foreign field or in our own neighborhood, the question remains, “How do we tell people about God
who don’t even know there is a God?”

But wait, isn’t that question perhaps flawed, in view of Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome?

Romans 1:18 goes on to say, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Romans 1:18-19

So God has made that which is known about Himself both evident within them and evident to them.

Question: who is the “them” this verse is speaking to? Answer: the ungodly and the unrighteous!

Paul continues: “For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

“Clearly seen,” “being understood” and “without excuse” are very telling statements. It reminds us of Psalm 19 where David writes, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2

This reminds me of a story told to me by a Lutheran missionary some years ago. The missionary was on a passenger boat traveling on a river in China. As he sat on a deck chair reading his Bible, an elderly Chinese gentleman sat down beside him. At one point the Chinese gentleman asked the missionary about the book he was reading. The missionary replied that he was reading the Bible. The Chinese gentleman asked what the Bible was. The missionary responded by saying it was a book about God, His love for mankind and His purposes and plan to redeem mankind from sin. The Chinese gentleman said “So, there is a God?”. The missionary responded, “Why, yes! The Chinese gentleman remarked, “I thought so!”

I love that story, that testimony! A man who never heard a sermon, didn’t go to church and didn’t even know what a Bible was had concluded there must be a God. “I thought so!”

How can that be, some might ask. Well, Paul has just told us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”

But this is not salvation! This is God going before, preparing the way, if you will.

This is God enlightening, wooing and influencing the ungodly and unrighteous.

But salvation comes by no other means then the message of the substitutionary, atoning work of Calvary’s cross.

“…And without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” Hebrews 9:22. This again is why Paul writes, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

Remember what we said earlier? It’s not the talent, intellect, persuasiveness or competency but rather the message of the Gospel. “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

This should be an encouragement to each of us as we realize, according to scripture, that God has already revealed Himself to the ungodly and unrighteous.

Our part or commission is to articulate, demonstrate and propagate the message of the Gospel, “For it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.”

Remember always, we as true believers, each and every one are Gospel Missionaries.

A Tribute to Tula

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NAS)

No, Tula is not some sort of acronym for the previous scripture. It’s actually the nickname my mom was most known by to family and friends, though her real name was Viola.

Proverbs 3:5-6 was a favorite scripture of mom’s and often appeared on birthday cards, Christmas cards and letters that mom sent to my brother and me over the years.

Mom passed on to Heaven on the twelfth of April this year at the age of 96. I thought it would be most appropriate and honoring to her to dedicate this edition of the Praiseletter to her memory.

Viola Sophia Holm was born in Minnesota on Sept 25, 1921. She was the youngest of five children born to Raymond and Sophia Harbrecht. She married Howard Curtis Holm on June 6, 1942. Though WWII kept “Curt” and “Tula” (the names by which they were known to most family and friends) apart for a time as Curt served in the Army, they enjoyed a long and wonderful marriage of 58 years.

They raised two sons; Douglas, born Oct. 2, 1945, and Dallas, born Nov. 5, 1948. After Curt’s retirement in the mid 70’s from Sanitary Farm Dairies/Land O Lakes, they moved to Lindale, Texas.

Tula worked most of her life as an executive level secretary. She served the Lord at Praise Ministries for twenty-two years as secretary to her son, Dallas. She was always “the life of the party.” She loved to travel, camp and volunteer for everything. She loved the Lord, she loved her husband, family and friends.

In recent years she would often say, “I wish I could just go to bed and wake up in Heaven.” She did! Somewhere in the early morning hours of April 12, she passed peacefully in her sleep. Her struggle here is over. Her life in Heaven has just begun. She is survived by her two sons, their wives, four grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and one great great grandchild, born the day of her passing. She was a blessing and was blessed! (Obituary)

She was a blessing to me in more ways than time or space permit me to share.

Sufficeth to say, she was a great mom, a great example of what a Christian should be and a great model of a faithful wife and loving mother.

She was also a tremendous blessing to me and so many as she served faithfully and tirelessly at Praise Ministries.

We’ve always tried to answer all of the mail that comes into our ministry. From around 1980 to 2002, which would represent the years mom worked at Praise Ministries, I guarantee we responded to thousands of letters! Every one of those letters would have been typed by mom and signed by me. She always made sure I read them, responded, (usually by pen) then she would type them and mail them.

One of her other responsibilities at the ministry was to type and proofread the Praiseletter. Though she retired around 2002, I still think of her in a special way every time I write this letter because it was always a cooperative effort between us.

Just days ago we celebrated Mother’s Day. It was the first for Doug and me without mom. However, the sadness of loss was far overshadowed by the wealth of precious and fun memories that will forever accompany our every remembrance of her.

I want to say a sincere thank you to every one of you who took the time to send an email, a letter or card to offer your love and prayers in our time of loss. Some sent in a gift to Praise Ministries in her memory. That was such a blessing!

Mom and Dad never had much money so there was nothing for them to leave behind. But gifts were given by others at the time of my dad’s passing in 2000 and now my mom’s. These gifts, in their memories, were so honoring to the Lord, honoring to them and exemplative of how the Body of Christ comes together. Thank you!

Proverbs 3:5-6 wasn’t just a scripture mom put at the bottom of a card or letter to add some spiritual punch or perhaps a challenge to “straighten up” in seasons of our lives where that was exactly what my brother and I needed. It was a gift given, not only written but lived out by two wonderful parents who had to trust in the Lord because their resources were limited.

Though neither mom or dad were able to pursue what we now call “a formal education,” both were abundantly knowledgeable and wise because they didn’t lean on their own understanding. Rather, they gained the most valuable understanding, knowledge and wisdom from God’s Word.

God was always the top priority in our family and in our home and consequently our paths have been and continue to be directed by Him.

Mom and dad left behind sons, daughters in law, grandchildren and great grandchildren who all love the Lord and endeavor to walk the path they walked. And now, even a great great grandchild, (on my brother’s side) born the day of mom’s passing, will I’m sure, join in this family journey.

Thank you for allowing me to share a little bit of my mom’s journey and influence with you.

We had a small graveside memorial service with family and a few friends after mom’s passing. She outlived almost all of her family and close friends, so a service of some kind in a building didn’t seem necessary or even appropriate.

In this letter, however, several thousand of you who in some way have been directly or indirectly touched by mom’s life, have participated in a final “memorial service” that she could have never imagined.

Thank you again for joining our family and so many friends in a tribute to “Tula”.

Understanding the Holy Spirit

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” ( 1 Corinthians 3:16)

Just the title of this Praiseletter triggers thoughts, emotions and a broad spectrum of doctrinal beliefs within this readership.

Some may jump for joy as they anticipate a discussion of spiritual giftings, miraculous manifestations and what a “spirit-filled” life should look like; at least according to their doctrinal position, experience and understanding.

Others may begin to get a little nervous, fearing that we may embark on a discussion of some of the aforementioned topics. This could be somewhat uncomfortable to those who feel a little calmer just not talking too much about the Holy Spirit because perhaps they have not been taught properly who He is and what He desires.

Thus, I write this letter, most simple and yet profound in its implications as we consider just a couple key issues concerning the Holy Spirit and us.

The Holy Spirit According to Scripture

First of all and most importantly, let’s look to God’s Word.

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

What a clear and important statement for us to grasp from God’s Word! His Spirit gives us life and so apart from His Spirit we cannot have life.

This verse speaks not only of physical life, but spiritual and eternal life as well.

So here is a most important point to understand and embrace. Every true believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That may seem an obvious truth to many but I can tell you there are many who believe (in various ways) that one can be saved and then receive His Spirit at some later occasion.

We say things like, “I received Christ” or, “I asked Jesus into my heart.”

These statements are fine and attest to a very real truth but sometimes lead us to an improper conclusion.

Jesus and the Holy Spirit

Jesus 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)

When we say we receive Christ, it is His Spirit in fact that we receive. We know from Scripture that right now and since His ascension, Christ is at the right hand of the Father.

“This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2:32-33)

Before Stephen was stoned he proclaimed, “Behold, I see the Heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God…” (Acts 7:56)

The writer to the Hebrews says: “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, (Jesus) who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the Heavens.” (Hebrew 8:1)

Through our terminology and perhaps a view of the famous painting of Jesus knocking at our heart’s door, we invision an image of this bearded, robed savior walking into our being somehow.

It is true He has, but it is by His Spirit.

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit

This easily opens the door to a lengthy discussion of the Triune Godhead. Time and paper do not permit that just now.

This we know from Scripture: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Each a separate person with a distinct function, if you will, within the Godhead, yet each fully God.

Toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He gives every true disciple a clear and powerful commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

If you do not believe in a Triune Godhead, this would probably be a good time to fold up this letter, place it in the file of your choice and maybe see if there is something good on TV.

Yes, it’s rather sarcastic humor but I’ve heard and read all the best arguments of the “non-Trinitarians” and find them to be lacking biblical support and scholarship.

How Much of the Holy Spirit Do You Have

Some say, “Christians have the Holy Spirit, but sometimes, they don’t have all of the Holy Spirit.”

This then begs the question, “How much of the Holy Spirit do they have?” Sixty-two percent, ninety-three percent or maybe just twenty-seven percent?

The Scripture always refers to the Holy Spirit as a person and understands Him to be just that. Indwelt by a partial person of the Godhead does not make “biblical sense.”

Perhaps a more legitimate question is not how much of the Holy Spirit we have, but rather how much of us the Holy Spirit has.

We can approach and discuss this point in so many ways but here’s what Scripture desires that we know and affirm: one of the absolute greatest moments in biblical and human history is when God decided to literally dwell within us by His own Holy Spirit.

Fully God in mortal man
This was His eternal plan
Temples made of flesh and blood
Never more of stone or wood
Holy lives His glories show
Heaven reaches here below
Holy Spirit, You have come
Make us more like God’s own Son

The Holy Spirit Dwells in You

As a true believer, it is absolutely essential that you realize the Spirit of the Living God dwells in His fullness within you!

Scripture says, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him..” (Romans 8:9)

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

Is there more to be discussed about the Holy Spirit; His ministry to and through us? His giftings? His ministry as Helper, Teacher, Comforter? Yes, to be sure, but none of those things will help us to grow as we should in Christ and be conformed to His image as He desires, unless we understand He dwells within us fully by The Holy Spirit!

Christmas Memories

I don’t know why exactly but it seems this holiday season, more than any other, I have been flooded with memories of past holiday celebrations.

As I write this letter, I am rejoicing being able to walk down the stairs from our bedroom, sit in a chair in my studio and write to you.

Reflecting on Seasons Past

Shortly before Thanksgiving, I had a low back disc issue which laid me out flat for almost two weeks. Pain night and day like I’ve never experienced before. I don’t share this to solicit your sympathy (though your continual prayers will be greatly appreciated) but rather to let you know that through this painful experience I had lots of time to think.

I tended not to think too much about big and complex issues because the sheer bulk of these more weighty matters seemed to only add to the pain.

With the holiday season literally at our doorstep, I found myself reflecting on seasons past with oft accompanying laughter that released endorphins to perhaps, in a small way, mask some pain.

“A merry heart does good, like a medicine.” (Proverbs 12:25)

One of my first holiday recollections was of a Thanksgiving my family, along with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, had celebrated together many years ago when my brother and I were just young boys.

I shared this story through Facebook over the Thanksgiving holiday and perhaps you’re already familiar with it. You know, the one where the baby chicks my brother and I were given at Easter became part of the Thanksgiving meal some months later.

This, of course, being announced to me by a cousin as I was about to bite into my second piece of fried chicken! Oh well, they were cute when they were little and tasty when they were older. I guess that’s a good thing.

But that was Thanksgiving and now we’re staring Christmas right in the face. How did it come around so quickly?

All I Ever Wanted For Christmas

I remember when I was a boy it seemed as though Christmas would never come, especially those last couple of weeks.

At Christmas time, I would wear that Montgomery Ward catalogue out. I could find the toy section in an instant and then within the toy section, I would flip immediately to the electric train page.

Oh man, all I ever wanted was an electric train. Usually, there would be a picture of a Lionel train, an American Flyer train and then a Marx Toys train of some kind.

I wanted a Lionel that had real smoke, a whistle and a light. Maybe if my folks saw me enough times glued to that page of trains they’d get the hint.

I remember once I picked up the catalogue to “assume the position” on the train page because I thought my dad was about to walk by. To my shock, the train page and several other of the toy pages were missing; ripped out it appeared! “It must be my brother!,” I thought.

Later, I was to learn (and I can’t say how) that they had been ripped out in response to a higher calling than a boy’s silly dreams. They found their way to our outhouse which was 50 feet or so behind our little dwelling.

The train page was gone and my life, it seemed, had gone off the rails!

I never got that Lionel train and that’s ok. A little later in life, I realized my parents could not have afforded such a toy. They did eventually get me a Marx Toys train, which I cherished greatly and still do.

Yes, I still have it and it still runs. Maybe I’ll set it up again this Christmas.

Christmas Memories

When I was a boy, we celebrated Christmas with lights, trees, and even Santa.

Now I know there are some who have great disdain for this kind of pagan ritualized celebration and I respect their right to that opinion.

But somewhere through all the trees, tinsel and turmoil, my brother and I clearly understood it was all about Jesus.

We understood it most clearly when we went to my Aunt Lorena’s house to celebrate their Christmas.

When you walked in the front door of their beautiful home, your eyes immediately went to the large Christmas tree with a literal sea of presents cascading out from beneath.

For my brother and I it was kind of a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that there was going to be a grand display of Christmas present opening. The bad news was that it was their Christmas celebration for their kids and grandkids. We would be onlookers, pretending to be overjoyed at the wonderful gifts our cousins were receiving but really kinda wishing we were home opening our own.

We might get a book or something, but I only saw that as a possible tunnel for my hoped for Lionel train to go through.

But I digress…

The Most Important Present of All

The first and most important thing that happened before all the gift opening was that we all had to sit down quietly around the tree. Do you know how hard that is for a bunch of kids that have already eyed their gifts and can’t wait to tear into them?

Aunt Lorena would say “Now everyone, before we open presents for ourselves, we’re going to open the most important present for Jesus.”

Then Aunt Lorena would have one of her grandchildren, usually the youngest capable of reading, find the envelope with Jesus’ name on it. The child would bring the envelope to my Aunt Lorena, and she would beam with a joy that would not be equaled the rest of the evening.

She would then remind us that this was Jesus’ birthday we were celebrating and that every good gift comes from Him.

We would sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, then Aunt Lorena would open the envelope and explain to us where the generous check inside was to be designated.

Many a missionary and ministry around the world received a wonderful gift on Jesus’ birthday.

When I was little, I guess I kinda thought Jesus got the short end of the stick. All the kids got boxes of presents, toys, and gifts too wonderful for words, it seemed. Jesus… just an envelope!

But as I grew and came to know Christ, I realized that Aunt Lorena had it all figured out just right.

It really is so much more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)

Christmas Memories…

It’s been a joy to share some Christmas memories with you. I hope they brought a smile to your face. Perhaps, you were also in need of the release of some endorphins!

Most of all, I pray you have a blessed Christmas. And as you celebrate this holiday in the right spirit, always remembering that it’s Jesus’ Birthday, I pray that you too will make rich, joyful and lasting Christmas memories.