Chasing Truth

Mindy is a typical young mom.

“There’s a lot of information out there that’s literally at my fingertips,” Mindy says. “I can find recipes, outfit ideas, and a never-ending supply of sharable Bible verses, all without even trying.”

Mindy listens to voices on social media more than she would like to admit.

“I’m reading global memes about Christianity, and spending more time posting about reading my Bible, than actually reading it,” she confesses. “I don’t even have a relationship with some of these people with platforms. But I’m allowing them to shape my thoughts and ideas about the Bible.”

AG National Women’s Ministries Director Kay Burnett noticed young women like Mindy and wondered if AG Women could address the problem. Burnett started asking questions such as, What would happen if a movement began among women across the nation to faithfully read their Bibles daily, in community, asking the Holy Spirit to teach them God’s truth?

Burnett had seen statistics about Bible engagement. For instance, a woman who reads the Bible four times a week or more is 228 percent more likely to share her faith with others, and 407 percent more likely to memorize Scriptures.

Because of these convincing statistics, and Burnett’s concerns, Chasing Truth — a movement sponsored by AG Women to help women read the Bible cover to cover in 2020 — is set to launch. This initiative ties into the Bible engagement emphasis that the Assemblies of God is promoting, under the leadership of General Superintendent Doug Clay.

Chasing Truth offers community through an organized Facebook group, currently with over 4,500 members and growing, who will read Scripture passages six days per week, and reflect on a devotional thought each Sunday. A downloadable reading plan is available on the Facebook page and the Women’s Ministries website at women.ag.org. The reading and discussion begins on Jan. 1 in the Facebook group.

The reading plan and devotional thoughts also are available in The Bible app on YouVersion any time a woman wishes to start the plan, by searching “Chasing Truth” in reading plans.

Along with the daily readings and devotionals each Sunday, the AG Women Chasing Truth Facebook group will allow women to discuss difficult passages and ask questions.

A team of Bible scholars will take turns addressing the more difficult passages of the Bible from each week’s reading by way of video posts to the group’s page. A group of scholars with members who are trained at or teaching in AG colleges and universities will post weekly videos to help address confusing or difficult passages readers might have questions about during the week.

The group will offer a monthly memory verse from the readings as well.

“What would happen if across our nation more and more women began to answer God’s call to go deeper in their walk with Him, to study and know His Word?” Burnett asks. “What would happen if AG women began to cry out to God to make them holy, strong in Him, and to influence their world?”
Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — Dec. 28, 1918

The first organization for Hispanic Assemblies of God churches and ministers in the United States was formed in 1918. At the time, the Pentecostal movement among Hispanics was in its infancy and consisted primarily of scattered, unorganized missions along the U.S.-Mexican border. Two Assemblies of God conventions were held in Texas in 1918 — one in January and a second in November. These conventions united Hispanic Pentecostals and laid the foundation for one of the largest and fastest growing segments of the Assemblies of God.

Hispanics forged their own Assemblies of God identity — developing indigenous leaders, schools, and governance structures — which gave believers a voice in a society where they were often marginalized. Asambleas de Dios congregations now dot the American landscape. In 2018, 22.8 percent of U.S. Assemblies of God adherents (736,511) were Hispanic.

The January 1918 convention was organized by Isabel Flores (a male Mexican-American pastor) and Henry C. Ball (an Anglo missionary to Mexicans). They ministered among the 300,000 refugees from the Mexican Revolution who lived along the borderlands in Texas. These refugees, uprooted from their families and their native land, often lived in squalid conditions. They had an uncertain legal status and, in the eyes of many observers, not much of a future.

While the broader American society often rejected the Mexican refugees, Pentecostals reacted differently. Flores, Ball, and other Pentecostal ministers fanned out, offering food, shelter, and medical assistance to those who were hurting. They viewed the refugees as a heaven-sent opportunity to share the gospel, which they did in both word and deed.

The first superintendent of the newly organized Hispanic work was Ball — probably chosen because as an Anglo he was able to navigate the difficult legal and cultural issues facing the Mexican refugees. On at least one occasion, he helped free a refugee pastor who had been imprisoned on false charges. Ball was himself imprisoned on suspicion of being a German spy during World War I because of his work with the refugees, who were viewed as a national threat during war time.

Despite legal, political, and economic tensions, Ball maintained his focus on helping the Pentecostal movement among Hispanics to mature and grow. He stressed the importance of developing indigenous leaders who could serve as pastors, evangelists, and missionaries to Hispanics in the United States and across Latin America.

Ball developed these themes in an article in the Dec. 28, 1918, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel. In the article, Ball reported on the November 1918 convention, noting that the Hispanic believers were united in doctrine, that there was a spirit of “sweet cooperation,” and that the churches aimed to be self-supporting and to ultimately send missionaries to their countries of origin. This vision for indigenous leadership was more fully realized in 1939, when Demetrio Bazan succeeded Ball as the first Hispanic leader of the Latin American District Council of the Assemblies of God.

The vision to bring the gospel to suffering Mexican refugees ultimately helped to transform the American church. Those refugees became the seeds from which a resilient Hispanic Pentecostal movement was birthed. Today, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities are helping to fuel the continuing growth of the Assemblies of God in the United States.

Read H. C. Ball’s article, “A Report of the Spanish Pentecostal Convention,” on page 7 of the Dec. 28, 1918, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “A Plea for Unity,” by A. P. Collins

• “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men,” by Raymond T. Richey

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Photo caption: The first graduating class of Latin American Bible Institute, San Antonio, Texas; 1928. Front row (l-r): H. C. Ball, Sunshine Ball, and two unidentified. Back row (l-r) Benito Mendez, Manuel Bustamante, Ruben Arevalo, Samuel Robles, Juan C. Orozco, Horacio Menchaca, Dario Lopez, Enrique Rosales, and Josue Cruz.
Source: AG News

Hope of Christmas

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn,” (Luke 2:7 NKJV).

A simple verse, so familiar, especially during this Christmas season, but so much is communicated about the dilemma faced by a young couple more than 2,000 years ago. What is the significance of this story, often illustrated in children’s Christmas pageants? You know the ones, with cute kids dressed up as Joseph and Mary, shepherds, angels, and sometimes an inn keeper (though the Bible doesn’t even speak of him). Though familiar, it’s worth pondering again, the hope found in this simple story.

THE PROBLEM

Joseph and Mary had a problem. Mary was due to deliver a baby at any moment, and no hospital was available. None existed. In fact, the couple couldn’t even secure a room in the bustling village of Bethlehem, packed with travelers in town for the government-required census. One might wonder why Joseph had brought his young wife on such an arduous journey in her condition. The trip would have required her to walk or ride a donkey for 70 miles. But how could he leave her home, worried about her giving birth alone? Though her pregnancy was a miracle of God as the angels had told them, one imagines few in their hometown believed such a story. The rumors and scorn directed toward them was no doubt challenging. He wanted to protect her physically and emotionally because he loved her.

So, nestling down in the hay of a shed or cave where animals were kept, they prepared for the birth of their child. What was Mary thinking? Was she uncomfortable? Did she wonder about the unsanitary conditions of a stable and whether her newborn would be safe from disease?

The young couple faced a problem that they did not create and could not control. Maybe you can identify as you face your own difficulties. The world around you is full of happiness, cheerful commercials, sappy movies, and excited children, but you’re not feeling it. Circumstances have left you anxious, sad, even depressed. You could use some hope.

Though Joseph and Mary faced a dilemma, they actually had a much bigger issue: an obstacle that those living in Bethlehem carried and that we all share today. Humanity’s biggest problem is sin.

God created the first human without sin and set him in paradise. God gave Adam, the first man, one rule to keep, but Adam disobeyed God, and invoked the curse of sin. His disobedience brought God’s wrath and condemnation upon himself and every person born after. We have a sinful nature that is inclined against God.

One little boy wrote his letter to Santa Claus with all of his desires and then added a postscript reading, “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you come a little early this year. You see, I’ve been being very good, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep it up.”

We can identify with the child. Though we try to be good, something happens or someone irritates us and we respond rudely. Try as we might, we can’t be good all the time and we wonder, “How good do I need to be, anyway?”

God’s standard is perfection. Only those who have never sinned will be able to enter his presence. So, obviously, none of us gets in on his own. We’ve all disobeyed God and fallen short of His standard. We have a sin problem that separates us from Him. God’s justice demands a punishment for our sins and that sentence is death. We are by nature children of wrath, in other words, people on a collision course with His judgment. We have a problem that we can’t fix. We need someone to intervene on our behalf.

THE PLAN
Thankfully, God has a plan to cure our sin problem. The opening words of Luke 2 seem like irrelevant details about government policies, but they actually reveal God’s sovereign plan to meet humanity’s greatest need. Our sin didn’t surprise Him. Before He created the world, He already knew everything that would happen, that humans would sin and need salvation. The apostle Paul says that God chose us before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4).

Following Adam’s sin in the garden, God meted out His judgement, including to the serpent (Satan) who had deceived Adam and Eve. God tells the deceiver that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Genesis 3:15). That is to say, one day, a child would be born who would conquer him. Old Testament saints looked for the day their Messiah would come. Their prophets spoke of the coming child:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6)

“But you, Bethlehem…out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,” (Micah 5:2).

God used the most powerful rulers of Joseph’s day, placing in their minds the idea to take a census. And, this action led to a chain of events that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem at the right moment so that the Messiah could enter the world in a humble stable, in fulfillment of the prophecies.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4).

God knows what He’s doing and He is able to act however is needed to fulfill His word and help His children. Joseph and Mary may have thought they were in a crisis, but they were actually in the center of God’s will. They were part of His plan to change the eternity of millions who would follow them.

I am grateful God loves us enough to do whatever is needed to intervene on our behalf. Our biggest problem was sin and God answers that matter personally. There are no accidents. No matter where we find ourselves this Christmas, God is sovereignly working to fulfill His plans and purposes, even in our pain. He hasn’t forgotten us. He loves us and is working all things for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).

THE PROVISION
Thankfully, God had planned for our greatest problem. He provided a Savior in the person of His own son, Jesus. Prior to the child’s birth, an angel appeared to Joseph, telling him the baby would save people from their sins. After Christ’s birth, angels appeared to shepherds to share the “good news” of a Savior born in Bethlehem.

The story of Christmas is captured in the familiar words of John 3:16: God loved us so much that He saw us in our sin and refused to leave us there. He gave his own Son on our behalf so that we could spend eternity with Him.

This is why we make such a big deal about Christmas and mangers and the story of this child in Bethlehem. This is our salvation and hope.

The ironic thing about this baby is He was destined for a cross. He was born so he could die. There’s nothing we can do to get into heaven. Our situation is hopeless. However, God in His mercy provided a Savior in the form of His own son. The good news is that Jesus came and took on human flesh and walked among us. He lived the sinless life we couldn’t. He died on a cross in our place. And, then He arose from the dead on the third day. Because He lives we can live.

To quote one of my favorite theologians, Linus, the Peanuts character, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

So, the only question that remains is what will you do with this child? Have you trusted Him alone for your salvation? Have you asked Him to forgive your sins and be the Lord of your life? If not, I urge you to believe Him for your salvation today. He is the only solution God has provided for you.

I hope you’re enjoying all the wonders of Christmas with its accompanying lights, sounds, and food. But, if you’re facing situations that are overwhelming you this year that cause fear and uncertainty, remember this simple story in Luke 2. This is God’s message of hope for every one of us. Ponder again the wonder that God loved us enough to provide a Savior. Jesus is the reason we can experience true joy this Christmas.
Source: AG News

The Star of Bethlehem Explored

This article was originally posted in AG News in December 2015.

Few things are more iconic than the Star of Bethlehem — the star Magi from the east followed to ultimately find and worship the Christ Child.

Over the centuries, many have speculated that the Star of Bethlehem was some sort of natural phenomenon that took place, but Dr. Richard Hammar, who teaches astronomy at Evangel University (and is also well known for his standard-setting prowess when it comes to church and law), believes the common explanations simply fall short.

Hammar says he views the Star of Bethlehem as one of the most endearing yet mysterious aspects of the Christmas story as it only appears in one passage in the gospels, and that being in the Gospel of Matthew.

In a presentation to the Springfield (Missouri) Astronomy Club, Hammar examines Matthew 2:1-12 and explains that the passage offers several clues about the Star of Bethlehem that may not be evident at first glance. Hammar explains that the clues are actually “tests” that theories would have to pass in order to make them valid.

Among those clues, Hammar first identifies the wording used: “We saw his star.” He explains that in the interlinear Greek New Testament, the term used for star (aster) was singular, so the Magi were referring to one star. The passage also notes that the Magi came from the east, indicating that there was an expectation held not just in Judea, but in regions far beyond that someone would come from Judea to achieve a universal empire (also referenced by Roman biographers Suetonius and Tacitus).

Hammar observes that the Magi could have traveled to Judea by two routes: a highly difficult and treacherous 500-mile desert route where survival was in question or by the highly traveled 1,000-mile route up the Euphrates Basin and through the Fertile Crescent where food, water, and shelter were available. Hammar believes the Magi would have taken the safer, well-traveled route — a trip that would have taken many months to complete.

Other clues include: the Magi seeing the Star while in the east, the Star suddenly appearing, Herod being unaware of the Star, the Star preceding the Magi south to Bethlehem (stars don’t move north to south); and the Star stopping over the exact location of the Christ Child.

There are various explanations that attempt to describe what the star of Bethlehem actually was, Hammer says, including a comet, a meteor, a nova or supernova, the theory of planetary conjunction, or wandering stars (planets that move more rapidly than background stars).

Hammer dismisses the first three based on the clues as comets and meteors don’t change directions or stop and novas/supernovas wouldn’t last long enough for the Magi to arrive and they don’t change direction; the theory of planetary conjunction has already been disproven; and the wandering star theory also doesn’t meet all the criteria the clues offer.

Instead, Hammar believes the Star of Bethlehem is best explained as a miraculous aberration — the Shekinah Glory of the Lord. “In the Old Testament with Moses you had the Shekinah Glory in the form of a pillar of cloud or fire that moved in front of the people, guiding them,” he explains. Hammar also references when Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened so he could see the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire as well as Saul of Tarsus’ conversion experience.

“Visible light is just a tiny sliver of the spectrum of all light. We can see one-quadrillionth of all light. If you look at the stars at night in infrared, it’s a completely different picture!” Hammar says. “Could it be that the Star of Bethehem was visible only to those people who God intended it to be seen by?”

To listen to Hammar’s fascinating extended teaching on the Star of Bethlehem, see his website, seetheglory.com.

Source: AG News

Remembering the Run-Over Miracle

Charlotte Fauss pulled her 1962 Chevrolet Impala from the garage onto the steep driveway, set the emergency brake, and stepped out of the car to close the garage door. Her two sons, Jody, 3, and Milton, 2, sat in the front seat.

On this spring 1963 evening, Charlotte, then 23, hurried to get to a Wednesday church service at Southside Assembly of God in Tyler, Texas, where her father-in-law, M.L. Fauss, pastored. Charlotte’s husband, Joe — the owner of four grocery stores and three restaurants — had to work that evening.

When his mother left the car, Jody became concerned about the blinking and clicking lights that came on with the emergency brake engaged. He had seen his parents stop the flashing and noise before by pulling the brake lever. Jody crawled under the steering column and did what he had seen his parents do.

The automobile began rolling down the incline of the driveway. In an era of no child car seat restraints — let alone seat belts laws — Jody tumbled onto the pavement with the driver door still open as the car forcefully hit the curb on the opposite side of the street.

Charlotte turned around after closing the door and watched helplessly as the car then immediately rolled over her son’s head, chest, and legs. The tire tread went over the top of the boy’s face.

A neighbor called an ambulance, after hearing Charlotte’s screams as she rushed to reach Jody. Charlotte began praying as she gazed into the dazed stare of her son. She wanted to pick Jody up in her arms, but instead gently rubbed his little body to comfort him. Charlotte knew the medical experts’ admonition not to move an injured person.

The ambulance arrived quickly, whisking Jody to Medical Center Hospital in Tyler.

M.L., sensing something wrong in his spirit, urged the flock at the church to gather at the altar to pray at the start of the service. Joe received a phone call at the shop informing him of the shocking news. Joe’s father had just buried another toddler from the congregation who had been run over by a vehicle.

Joe felt too shaken to drive and called for a police officer to take him to the hospital. While he waited, the successful businessman made a vow: if the Lord would spare his son’s life, Joe would serve Him the rest of his life in whatever capacity God determined.

“I prayed all the way to the hospital,” Charlotte says. “I had a very strong faith that God was going to take care of Jody.”

Doctors initially didn’t share such confidence. Although X-rays revealed Jody incredibly suffered no broken bones, physicians doubted whether he would survive the night. If the boy did live, they felt certain he would be brain damaged and never walk again.

The next morning, Joe had to see to his business ventures. But then he received a phone call from Charlotte, who put a coherent and happy Jody on the line. The boy miraculously made a swift and full recovery.

Jody, now 59 and the oldest of four Fauss sons, relates the story on occasion. He has been children’s pastor of Church of Living Hope in Tyler as well as North Texas District Royal Rangers outreach director for three decades. He doesn’t reveal the identity of the boy until the end of the testimony, when he pulls out the shirt he wore that night. Emergency personnel cut the shirt off his body.

“I tell the children about how God is our healer and is active in our lives today,” says Jody. He and his wife, Anne, have three daughters and a son.

Joe kept his promise to the Lord. Soon after the traumatic event, he exchanged the financial security of his business enterprises for the uncertainty of ministry. He operated a Teen Challenge center in Tyler for seven years, then sensed a calling to care for prisoners after their release.

In 1977, Joe, Charlotte, and their sons moved from their four-bedroom brick dream home into a mobile home in nearby Lindale to start Calvary Commission. Joe, a U.S. Missions chaplain, started Calvary Commission to provide a residential discipleship program that enables parolees to achieve their quest to stay out of prison. More than 2,800 students, mostly former prisoners, have graduated from Calvary Commission to become living testimonies of redeemed lives.

Jody has worked at Calvary Commission since the age of 20 and he now is campus director, overseeing ministry operations, the school, training, and outreaches. Anne, his wife of 34 years, is dean of students.

Photo: Jody and Charlotte Fauss still keep the shirt as a reminder of the miracle from 56 years ago.

Source: AG News

Hope in the Heart of Denver

The Denver Dream Center gave away Christmas gifts to 10,000 families and 6,000 kids in need on Dec. 14 at Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies major league baseball team.

Bryan S. Sederwall, 45, is the executive director and lead pastor of the Denver Dream Center. He and his wife, Joy, who coordinates kids programs at the center, pastored in Los Angeles for eight years. While in California, they became passionate about the mission and outreach of the Los Angeles Dream Center. The Sederwalls moved to Denver in 2006, and after several years of building relationships and researching the needs of the Mile-High City, they launched the Denver Dream Center in 2014.

“God’s call gives us the opportunity to build relationships, reach into the hardest places, and to offer hope in Jesus to gang members, inmates, single moms, and at-risk kids,” Sederwall says. “Transformation of the hardest neighborhoods and the most hopeless people drives us!”

Each Christmas, Sederwall and his team look for opportunities to serve Denver. Initially, the Dream Center distributed gifts to about 50 kids. That number has grown every December since. This year, the Dream Center sponsored a party at Coors Field to help facilitate dissemination of the presents. Buses brought 200 families in from low-income housing and Denver Housing Authority neighborhoods every hour.

The event featured 1,000 volunteers. Macy’s department store donated 1,500 coats. While live music played, Denver’s mayor, fire department officials, police department officials, and players from the Rockies, Denver Nuggets National Basketball Association team, and Denver Broncos American Football Conference team all made appearances. Each attendee received an invitation to the Denver Dream Center’s Christmas service on Dec. 19.

“A team follows up with each family served,” Sederwall says. “Through our youth, sports, and single moms programs, we provide areas of support and ongoing relationships.”

The outreach impressed Rocky Mountain Ministry Network Superintendent Gene Roncone.

“I am amazed at the diversity of ministers and ministries God has assembled in his spiritual arsenal to beat back the forces of evil in Colorado and Utah,” says Roncone, 53.
Source: AG News

A Pentecostal Look at Christmas

The following is reprinted from the Dec. 25, 2011, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

In a spare but powerful scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus steps forward on the school stage where the Peanuts gang is rehearsing their Christmas play and recites Luke 2:8-14.

The shepherds. The angels. The announcement of the Christ child. The proclamation of glory to God in heaven and peace on earth to men. It’s all there.

After quoting the passage with King James decorum and childlike simplicity, Linus walks over to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about.”

Network TV may never offer a more faithful and concise summary of Christmas’ good news.

Every Christmas, followers of Christ around the world rejoice over the Father’s gift of the Son to a sin-darkened world. Pentecostal Christians might naturally contemplate where the Holy Spirit fits in the Trinity’s timeless plan of redemption. He is absolutely present and active.

Luke’s Gospel offers more than a singular record of angels and shepherds on that first Christmas night; its opening chapters are a treasure trove of Christmas vignettes about the Holy Spirit. This should not come as a surprise from the biblical author who would later write the Book of Acts.

It is Luke’s inspired reporting that drafted the Day of Pentecost’s Spirit baptism into Church history. The Spirit’s powerful visitation washed over the 120 gathered in the Upper Room. When the apostle Peter stepped forward to explain the event to a curious multitude, the Spirit overflowed to some 3,000 who responded to his message.

A Pentecostal reading offers inspiring parallels between the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel and Peter’s prophetic framing of the Spirit’s outpouring.

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy’” (Acts 2:17,18, NIV).

Peter quoted the prophet Joel and joyfully announced that God was indeed pouring out His Spirit on all people — men and women, young and old. Luke’s Christmas story includes a series of transformative Spirit encounters with members from each group Peter (and Joel) identified.

If you have a Bible, take a look for yourself.

John the Baptist, even within Elizabeth’s womb, embodied a powerful work of the Spirit in males and in the very young. “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth,” the angel Gabriel announced to John’s father, Zechariah (Luke 1:15). When Mary told Elizabeth of her own pregnancy with the Christ child, John “leaped in [Elizabeth’s] womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 41). Through Elizabeth’s experience with the Spirit and her resulting praise, Luke showed the elderly and women being drawn into the circle of prophetic fulfillment.

Mary herself is an example of a young woman completely submitted to the working of the Holy Spirit in her life. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” Gabriel had told the virgin girl (Luke 1:35). “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

A baby boy. An elderly mother. A teenage virgin.

The story continues with Zechariah, who once doubted God’s promise but at John’s birth was ready to shout God’s truth to all who would listen. “[John’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” (v. 67). Zechariah’s Spirit-inspired message rounds out Luke 1.

With the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel, the Spirit is clearly integral to key events following Jesus’ birth. Consider the prophecies given when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the temple as a baby.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God” (Luke 2:25-28, emphasis added).

Three times Luke describes the elderly Simeon in connection with the Spirit’s touch upon his life. The Spirit, then, is to be heard in verses 29-32 in all that Simeon proclaimed about Jesus.

With this in mind, the description of Anna in verse 36 as “a prophetess” clearly demonstrates the activity of the Spirit through her. “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (vv. 37,38).

John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, Anna.

Young and old, male and female, all acted at the prompting of the Spirit, often in a prophetic vein. This is part and parcel of the story of Christmas.

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy’” (Acts 2:17,18).

The story of Christmas goes beyond the promise of salvation and renewed fellowship with God. The story of Christmas is also the story of God’s Spirit working through His servants regardless of their station in life. The story of Christmas is the story of God’s desire to empower His children today through His Spirit for life-giving ministry among this world’s hurting multitudes.

Where do you fit in that story?

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — Dec. 20, 1964

Morris Oliver Williams (1920-1991) is remembered for his faithful years of service as an Assemblies of God missionary in southern Africa. He was a missionary in Nyasaland (now Malawi) from 1946 to 1963 and in South Africa from 1963 to 1970. He also served as field secretary for Africa from 1971 to 1985. After leaving that office, he joined the faculty of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, as associate professor of missions until his death.

Williams was born in Kansas and raised in North Dakota. His father, Bruce Williams, was a Church of the Brethren minister who identified with the Pentecostal movement in the late 1920s and who later served as a teacher at Lakewood Park Bible School (now Trinity Bible College and Graduate School). Morris Williams was one of seven children, all of whom became active in Assemblies of God ministry. His siblings included Ward Williams (longtime professor at Southeastern University), Maxine Williams (faculty member at Northwest University), Harriet Schoonmaker-Bryant (missionary to India), Kay Trygg (wife of Rev. Elmer Trygg), Marian Brandt (wife of Rev. Robert L. Brandt), and Dorris Kingsriter (wife of Rev. Harland Kingsriter).

Morris Williams was saved at the age of 11 under the ministry of a missionary from Africa. After completing high school, he attended North Central Bible Institute (now North Central University) in Minneapolis. It was there that he met Alice Mae “Macey” Lundquist, who later became his wife. After their marriage, the Williamses pastored in northern Iowa for 2 ½ years before he accepted the position of president of Christ’s Ambassadors (the Assemblies of God young people’s organization) for the West Central District. While serving as C.A. president, the Williamses offered themselves for missionary service, accepted a position in Nyasaland, and set sail in January 1946.

Morris Williams and his wife felt impressed to answer the call given in Mark 16:15: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” This most certainly included the people of Nyasaland.

It did not take long for the Williamses to begin to love people in Africa like their own family. They soon discovered that people in Nyasaland were hungry for knowledge, education, better pay, a better lifestyle, and political freedom. But many did not see a need for Christ. They looked to the missionaries in a sense of hope to receive the things they longed for, not realizing that there were spiritual needs as well. The Williamses worked tirelessly to befriend Africans and to share the love of Christ. They started a mission station and established a Bible school in Dedza. Morris Williams also helped establish five other Bible schools in southern Africa. A prolific writer, Williams authored over 50 articles in the Pentecostal Evangel, as well as seven books, several of which were translated into the Swahili and French languages.

Missionaries can have very busy schedules. This was evident to Morris Williams’ three children. One December they asked him, “Are you going to be home for Christmas this year, Dad?” The plan was to have a nice family gathering on Christmas Eve and then celebrate Christmas Day with African friends. The Williamses put up a nice Christmas tree and hung three stockings on the mantelpiece. Mrs. Williams baked cookies, and there were many packages under the tree which had been mailed from friends in the United States. The children were eagerly waiting for after supper to open their gifts.

Eight o’clock arrived, and the children were clothed in their pajamas and ready to relish every happy moment of the evening. Morris Williams read the Christmas story, and the family started singing a Christmas carol. Then there came a knock on the door. A man named Chimetele was at the door and told them that his car was broken down, and his family was stranded. He wanted to know if the missionary would take him and his wife and children to their town 20 miles away.

Williams determined that the trip to Mphati would take at least two hours to drive there and back due to rough roads. With compassion in his heart for the man’s family huddled in the darkness along the lonely African road, Williams left his wife and children and unopened presents behind. Although this was a sacrifice, this gave him the opportunity “to let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).”

It was after 11 p.m. when Morris Williams returned home. Although their family Christmas celebration had been interrupted, Macey, his wife, said, “I’m glad you helped Chimetele. We never know when an act of kindness will be used to bring people to Christ — and that, after all, is what we’re here for.” This was a gratifying thought on Christmas Eve. It also is a beautiful Christmas illustration of how the Williamses and other Assemblies of God missionaries and their families consecrated their lives to glorify God by serving people in lands far away from their own homes.

Read “Christmas on the Mphati Road” on pages 12 and 13 of the Dec. 20, 1964, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “An Unforgettable Christmas,” by William Nelson Sachs

• “God’s Christmas List,” by Ann Ahlf

• “The Place of Education in the Pentecostal Ministry,” by G. Raymond Carlson

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Source: AG News

Lunch with a Legend

As I walked into the small Chinese restaurant on a pleasant Dec. 5th day, non-descript was a word that jumped into my mind — no traditional artwork, fish tanks, sculptures, or music. The booths were unpadded and seemed a bit cramped; the tables were just large enough to possibly seat four; and the bright light from the noon-day sun showed through the large plate glass windows and across the clean, but aged square stone-tile floor to the back wall, perhaps 12 feet away.

At first, it seemed an odd place to meet a man who some might think of as a living legend. But there I was, preparing to meet and interview the former attorney general of Missouri (1976-1985), Missouri governor (1985-1993), U.S. Senator from Missouri (1995-2001), and U.S. Attorney General (2001-2005) John Ashcroft.

Ashcroft, who attends Evangel Temple Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, arrived and entered the restaurant. His walk was easy, confident . . . a man comfortable in his own skin.

As I greeted the even-toned Ashcroft at the entrance, we turned and were immediately in front of the order counter, where a female employee was happily smiling toward Ashcroft.

Moments later, I began to realize that the restaurant, as simple as it may have seemed, was a safe and welcoming place for Ashcroft.

“Would you like the John Ashcroft Special today?” the woman asked.

Did I hear right? The restaurant has a dish named for him? I glanced up — there, behind the counter and above the ordering window was a framed black-and-white photo of Ashcroft from what appeared to be his days as governor. And then I recalled how the interview almost never happened because no one knew where “Flossy’s” restaurant was — it wasn’t the restaurant’s name, but the name of the ever-so-friendly woman now taking our order.

With time, new lines have appeared on Ashcroft’s now 77-year-old visage, but they’re friendly lines to go along with his heavily graying hair. But as we begin to talk, it quickly becomes clear that he’s very sharp, has things that he’s very passionate about, has a deadpan sense of humor, and is confident enough to be self-deprecating with his humor, which would seem uncommon for anyone with his resume.

SAVING SCRIPTURAL SONGS

As our steaming meals arrive at the table, Ashcroft shares he’s still involved in holding services at camps, churches, denominational meetings, and other gatherings that focus on God’s Word and the deep spiritual value and significance of scriptural songs.

“I think that they don’t want to lose the value that is to be learned and rehearsed when we sing these great songs that have a lot of theology and content,” Ashcroft says, measuring his words. “We’ll go [conduct a service] whenever someone asks us, but we won’t go unless someone asks us.”

Ashcroft says the songs that are his favorite, whether written in a relatively contemporary setting or years ago, are the songs with content.

“If you want a song that illustrates content, go to the third verse of Great is Thy Faithfulness — ‘Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.’”

He notes that all in one verse, the song speaks of the pardon, peace, presence, power, promise, and provision of God.

“That’s pretty rich,” he states. “There are more than merely six words there; there are six concepts . . . the whole idea is to use singing to elaborate on Scripture. When we the Scripture says, ‘forget not all His benefits,’ one of the ways to do that is to elaborate His benefits by singing the song.

“The Bible has a lot of instruction about singing, and teaching with singing,” he continues. “There’s more [in the Bible] about singing than preaching, at least to my awareness. Some people say what you eat is what you are; I think what you sing is what you are.”

As Ashcroft continues to discuss his passion for songs that communicate Scripture, he points out the importance of how song continues its powerful influence in today’s culture.

“I believe that music is understood in a different neurological process than other learning is; I think it comes from a different part of the brain,” he says. “I don’t know what other cultures do, but the English-speaking culture uses music to teach people the most fundamental things in life. I don’t know a single person who learned the ABCs without music.”

Ashcroft also points out the durability of music, how even those who may no longer remember the names of relatives, often still recognize and can sing songs and how people can still recite the ingredients of a Big Mac due to an old (1970s) musical jingle.

“It’s no wonder that the Bible instructs us to admonish each other by singing,” he observes. “And if you define admonishing as shaping behavior, is there a more pleasant way to shape behavior than have people sing the right things into their behavior?”

CHRISTIAN HIGHER EDUCATION

Another passion of Ashcroft’s is Christian Higher Education. He’s willing to do whatever he can to help. Rattling off the acronyms of numerous AG universities he’s spoken at and made presentations for, he explains that he makes appearances for the cost of his travel. And when speaking on topics such as national security at other schools, he asks that honoraria be sent to Evangel University, where he father was one-time president there as well as at Central Bible College.

Referencing Daily Light, a devotional, Ashcroft mentions two passages that he thinks characterizes Christian education, Malachi 3:16 (the Lord pleased by those who respect Him and discuss Him) and Luke 24:13-35 (the road to Emmaus, following Christ’s crucifixion). He notes that in both instances (as well as elsewhere in the Bible), when people discuss, commune, and reason about God in faith, Jesus draws near.

“It blew my mind what happened when these guys on the road to Emmaus communed and reasoned together — Jesus showed up,” he states. “I think that’s what Evangel [University] is all about: a community that’s discussing and reasoning together in the context of faith — and Jesus shows up.”

He explains that in Christian schools, students have a unique environment that has a special presence of God.

“Our problem is not the absence of God, it’s the absence of our recognition of the fact that God is there. Understanding God’s presence should affect our conduct and should affect the way we treat each other — which is part of our conduct. That’s what Christian education is about,” Ashcroft observes. “I think Christian education is under serious attack and I don’t think most of the people in our churches care.”

OTHER INTERESTS

Ashcroft, who enjoys singing and writing songs, including a song sang at George W. Bush’s second inauguration (Let the Eagle Soar), says that he still plays the piano every day. He also enjoys hosting groups from his church at his farm, including his church’s Royal Rangers campout, some Sunday School events, and helping missionaries out when he can.

He says he’s very grateful for how God has blessed his son Jay, the current Missouri secretary of state. “He’s exceeded every expectation I’ve had for him as a public servant . . . I’ve been very pleased,” Ashcroft says warmly. “I just feel like he more fully utilizes all of his capacities. You know, there are certain jobs that sort of call on you for what you are good at or can be good at. I think public service has really engaged him and his entire person most beneficially.”

And there’s no doubt that he appreciates, loves, and respects his wife of 50-plus years, Janet.

“In the winter we ski,” Ashcroft says. “We go to the Winter Park [Colorado] area . . . in the summer, we do a lot of hiking, we hike in Colorado as well.”

The Ashcrofts also invest quite a bit of time on their farm; he working with the cattle, fences, and other farmhand jobs while Janet is a meticulous gardener, well known for her homemade blackberry jam.

“Janet is a highly skilled attorney. She’s taught law and taught accounting at various places,” Ashcroft says. “But I remember when we were first married she sewed many of her own clothes and most of the wardrobe of our first child, Marty — she eventually sewed Marty’s wedding dress. While she is a highly trained Chicago law school lawyer, she knows how to work.”

Ashcroft himself will spend several weeks this spring teaching at the Regent University Law School in Virginia, as he has for the past 14 years.

AND FINALLY, GUS

If there was one pleasantly surprising moment during the interview, it was when Ashcroft mentioned his dog, Gus — the “best dog in the world.”

An 8-year-old Vizsla — an energetic breed known for its agility and obedience — Gus has clearly won Ashcroft’s affection and respect.

“I like to teach him tricks, so my grandkids can come and do tricks with him,” Ashcroft says, going on to share some of the tricks he has mastered.

But then comes the “ah-ha” moment when Ashcroft pulls out his phone and begins to show us picture after picture of Gus in action. It appears Gus has a bit of a “showman” side — having his own calendar depicting him wrapping Christmas presents, reading the Sunday morning paper, raking leaves, playing the piano, playing the ukulele, driving the welcome wagon . . . and oh, here’s a picture from a meeting at Camp David (with President Bush and other key leaders present . . ., but let’s get back to Gus).

“I’m telling you he’s not an ordinary dog,” Ashcroft says. “I tell you, he literally has a group of fans that ask about him. . . they don’t give a rip about what happens to me, ‘Where’s Gus?’”

And the secret to getting Gus to do extraordinary tricks?

“It’s Cheetos,” Ashcroft says. “He likes the crunchy kind . . . never ask me about my dog,” he adds with dry humor.

JUST A GOOD GUY

As the interview drew to a close, the John Ashcroft Specials evidently made to delicious perfection, it was clear that my initial evaluation of his walk — a man just comfortable in his own skin/in who he was — was on target.

Friendly, congenial, a man with priorities and passions, and who hadn’t let his positions of power lead to pride, John Ashcroft left me feeling deeply impressed. God could have called any other man or woman to walk the political tightrope He asked Ashcroft to traverse, but he chose him, evidently for good reason.

Perhaps what I was impressed the most by wasn’t the reams of accomplishments anyone can find in an internet search, his strong support of Christian higher education, or even his passion for Scripture — it was more than that. He left me thinking, Wouldn’t it be great to have him as a friend.
Source: AG News

When You Don't Feel Like Forgiving

With a hundred miles down the road that day behind me, someone in my path had offended me and I was unloading — not on my offender, but on my wife. I poured out all the reasons why my offender was so wrong and I was so right. As Pamela and I traveled home from an out-of-town wedding, I took advantage of the captive audience and rehearsed the words I really wanted to say to someone else; someone who had done something I found offensive.

Suddenly, the playlist on our car audio system advanced to a new song, “The Prodigal Suite” by songwriter-musician Keith Green. While Pamela endeavored to give me a empathic hearing, my 6-year-old daughter, Kristin, interrupted my rantings with a simple question: “Daddy, what’s that song about?” Ceasing my speech but for the moment, I obligingly shared the high points of the famed parable so well captured by the late musician’s symphonic masterpiece, one of my all-time favorites.

Amidst my storytelling or retracing of the son’s path to redemption, something happened, something unexpected and unsolicited. The truth started to sting. Sharing this familiar, but most amazing parable with my little girl caused me to sense just how unforgiving my words and tone undoubtedly sounded to her young ears. Conviction heightened, yet a problem remained:

Sometimes I just don’t feel like forgiving.

Have you ever felt that way?

It comes in those times when someone has done or said something unkind, uncouth, or unwise. You find yourself frustrated and angry. Your soul feels stung, scorched, even stunned. In those times, the mental scripts shout:

I can’t believe she just said that to me! Again.

Where does he get off acting that way?

I just want to hurt them back … even worse than they hurt me!

The toughest thing about forgiveness is what proceeds it: the big hurt. It comes from something someone says, does, or doesn’t say. It strikes a blow that can leave us feeling:

Overwhelmed.

Blindsided.

Humiliated.

Somehow the hurts in our hearts reshape the thoughts in our minds. Hurtful thoughts. Hurtful feelings. They feed each other.

MENTAL ROADBLOCKS TO FORGIVENESS
Alexander Pope, the 18th century poet, wrote one of the most familiar quotes about forgiveness: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Forgiving does at times seem downright super-human, beyond our natural inclinations. Yet while we contemplate forgiveness, our minds often fill with opposing thoughts:

Isn’t forgiveness just endorsing their behavior?

Won’t forgiveness give them an upper hand over me?

Do they really deserve my forgiveness?

But just what do we mean by the word forgiveness?

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator, but it has everything to do with the victim,” says Emerge counselor Mike Snodgrass. “It can be given whether the perpetrator has asked for it or not.”

This act of forgiving, then, is not just a feeling we strive toward, but a type of giving — a gift of grace. It has little to do with our feelings and much to do with our faith. To take that step of faith, it helps to consider what biblical forgiveness is and is not.

Forgiveness is not:
     • Figuring it all out.
     • Dependent on the other person’s apology.
     • Condoning the offender’s sin or sinful behavior.

Forgiveness is:
     • A place for grace to go to work … in us.
     • A gracious mindset.
     • About our hearts, not just someone else’s behavior.

People who wait until they “feel” like forgiving are in for a long ordeal. Forgiveness is a decision born out of a heart and mind dependent upon God, His Word, His ways, and His will. So, the next time you are hit with a big hurt:

     1. Remember to name the offense; call it what it is.

“Forgiveness means confession first,” says Emerge counselor Tish Granville. “You cannot forgive what you don’t name or confess, so name the harm. Name what happened accurately and descriptively.” Until you call it clearly, it will be tough to grieve it honestly.

     2. Remember that forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s a decision. It is not a matter of emotion first and foremost, but one of will and of choice.

When we forgive, we are being “empowered through the Holy Spirit to realize our need for forgiveness and the great act of forgiveness on the Cross,” says Emerge counselor Clair Gau. We don’t wait for the offender to apologize in order to forgive, but remember that Jesus forgave us and died for our sins even “while we were yet sinners.”

     3. Remember forgiv-en people are forgiv-ing people.

“Forgiving doesn’t mean you forget, but that you no longer hold them accountable for what they did,” says Emerge counselor Maribeth Lieberth. “You no longer expect any response, repayment, or obligation from the other person. You give them grace for your sake and theirs.” When you have tasted forgiveness in your own life; it shows. Jesus said that the one who has been forgiven much, loves much (Luke 7:36-50).

THE ROAD TO FORGIVENESS
My road trip that day with my wife and daughter started out as a journey of bitterness. While I fired away with all the reasons I was so right and my offender was so wrong, my unforgiveness was suddenly interrupted by a simple question:

“What’s that song about, Daddy?”

“Forgiveness, sweetheart. That’s what is about.”

Once again the words of Jesus had calmed a storm, this time one within me — a storm of offense. The honest question of a child renewed my mind with a familiar story from the Savior. That truth in my head rekindled a grace in my heart and my defenses dropped.

Ultimately, God did not ask me to feel like forgiving.

He asked me to forgive.

 

Robert C. Crosby is president of Emerge Counseling Ministries based in Akron, Ohio. Emerge has been providing counseling for over 45 years. Emerge also directs The HelpLine, a global call-in counseling support line for AG pastors and their family members. Crosby is the author of several books, including The One Jesus Loves, When Faith Catches Fire, and The Teaming Church. Contact Emerge Counseling at emerge.org or at 800-621-5207.

Source: AG News