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EARLY CHURCH HISTORY 101 (Lesson 15)

Beyond the spiritual manifestations of the infilling of the Spirit, there were also the emotional and physical ones. To outside observers, it appeared as though the Upper-Roomers were drunk or high on something.

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INTRODUCTION   

Ch 1: LESSON 1   LESSON 2   LESSON 3   LESSON 4   LESSON 5   LESSON 6   LESSON 7

Ch 2: LESSON 8  LESSON 9  LESSON 10  LESSON 11  LESSON 12  LESSON 13  LESSON 14

LESSON 15

Acts 2:12-15

12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” 14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day… [1]

In the ancient city of Babel, God transformed the one language of all people into many languages. The people could no longer understand one another and were consequently dispersed into separate regions. Conversely, on the day of Pentecost, the languages of the dispersed peoples of the world were spoken by the power of one Person who resided within many. This was a reversal of the confusion of Babel. This act would unite instead of divide. The builders of the city and tower of Babel were united against God. The constructors of the Church are united for Him. This was the clarion call sent out to all nations to join the kingdom without walls, the spiritual kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the new Jerusalem.

But as now and throughout the church age, some were not impressed. Some people openly mocked the work of the Spirit, claiming the boisterous activity and loud voices were merely the actions of the inebriated and ignorant. Though there have always been excesses, were the Upper-Roomers excessive? Was the Lord Jesus excessive? When He walked the earth, His detractors called Him a wino. Is it merely coincidence that the same accusation emerged once again?

Something about the disciples’ behavior reminded the naysayers of common drunks. Sweet wine, or “new wine,” was that which was produced the same year of its harvest. It was very intoxicating. In a relatively joyless world of difficult toil and little natural merriment, wine provided a relaxing and welcome respite from the rigors of the work week. Maybe few Jews drank to excess but those who did were obvious to all. It was indeed a cheap shot to label the Lord’s people Sunday morning Mardi Gras revelers under the influence of strong drink, but what else were the mockers to think? Such a thing had never happened before. It was relatively early in the day and a house load of fellow Israelites had taken on the apparent appearance of festival-goers too impatient or undisciplined to at least wait until evening before engaging the vino.

But the majority of those below sensed something else. Instead of simply making a quick judgment based on minimal evidence, they were drawn to the spectacle in wonder. The Spirit of God was everywhere around them. They began to feel what the Upper-Roomers were feeling. Joy was spilling out of the windows. Great smiles and laughter abounded. A release was taking place. Over and over the same thought kept running through their awestruck and somewhat confused minds, What does this mean?

Peter, sensing that the time had arrived to explain the current happening, moved to the forefront and prepared for his address. He was no longer the impetuous fisherman, but the articulate and well-versed spokesman of the “fishers of men.”

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

EARLY CHURCH HISTORY 101 (Lesson 14)

While the unprecedented and astonishing miracle was taking place in the Upper Room with those inside oblivious to the outside world, a great stirring was occurring in the streets below: They had an audience.

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INTRODUCTION   

Ch 1: LESSON 1   LESSON 2   LESSON 3   LESSON 4   LESSON 5   LESSON 6   LESSON 7

Ch 2: LESSON 8  LESSON 9  LESSON 10  LESSON 11  LESSON 12  LESSON 13

LESSON 14

Acts 2:5-11

5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

The Lord said they would be witnesses. I remember many years ago I heard a New Testament studies teacher expounding on the subject. He was a brilliant man and a friend, who has since made the big trip. By this time in my walk I had witnessed to countless people but I had never before heard one particular thing that man spoke forth. It stood out within his teaching and has remained strong in my memory ever since. He said, “Witnessing is a forced option.” What he meant was that Christians are witnesses twenty-four hours a day whether they want to be or not, or whether they think they are or not. We are not witnesses only when we are witnessing.

While that particular thought settles in, let’s think about the mindset of the believers in the midst of the greatest event of their lives. Many had their eyes closed, lost in the Spirit, emotions spilling forth. There were loud voices of praise at various levels, male and female, bass, alto, soprano, all speaking forth in languages they had never spoken before. Most were unaware of their surroundings, being completely focused on the Lord. Tears were streaming. Smiles were beaming. Pure joy was breaking out all over. They had been clothed with power from on high.

And in the midst of it all, those on the streets below, Jews from all over the empire in town for the great Feast of Weeks, were beyond perplexed. It was unprecedented for them as well.

The Upper-Roomers were already fulfilling their call to be witnesses and did not even know it.

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

Every one of those temporary residents of Jerusalem and the city dwellers themselves were receiving a forced witness. They had no choice in the matter. They heard unlearned and ignorant Galileans, given away by their accents, “speaking of the mighty deeds of God,” in their own respective languages. It was the first instance of this “sign for unbelievers,” as Paul mentioned, which would be given again and again—the evidence of a surrendered heart and the fruit of holy speech. It was also an awakening moment for those on the outside looking in.

Pentecost was a reversal of Babel.

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

EARLY CHURCH HISTORY 101 (Lesson 4)

The Bible records many miraculous historical events. One of the most miraculous, or downright mind-bending if you were there, was the Ascension of the Lord. Some say it defies belief. Believers say He defied gravity.

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INTRODUCTION   LESSON 1   LESSON 2   LESSON 3

LESSON 4

ACTS 1:9-12

9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. [1]

Luke reports the event in an understated matter-of-fact manner. The likelihood is strong that he wasn’t there so he must have received the information from those who were. Since he wrote The Acts of the Apostles about thirty years after the Ascension, it is most probable that many of the firsthand witnesses had already passed on. Nevertheless, I don’t believe Luke would have relied on secondhand information, no matter how credible. Who might have provided their testimony? There was a large group there, not only the eleven apostles. Some of them probably later traveled into the far reaches of the Greco-Roman world. The apostle Paul, whom Luke spent much time with, would certainly have known many who were there that day.

Regarding the Lord’s departure, it must have been hard on everybody. Maybe the thoroughly unique and otherworldly method He chose took some of the edge off. He knew He would still be with them, though in spiritual form. But His disciples likely felt that an unseen floor had dropped away. They spent almost every day of the last few years with Him. He taught them everything they knew. They would miss Him terribly. We have all had such heartfelt goodbye moments, sometimes involving those we would never see again.

As they stood there on the Mount of Olives between Bethany and Jerusalem peering up into the sky at the Lord’s strange private rapture, the disciples were enthralled with an event never possibly experienced before, lost in their goodbyes, and momentarily overcome with loss. How would they manage without Him?

Then the two angels suddenly showed up with more of the matter-of-fact narrative as if the Ascension were a mere ho hum event. “Why are you guys still standing there looking into the sky?” With that statement they announced yet another event, one stranger than the first.

He’s coming back.

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

EARLY CHURCH HISTORY 101 (Lesson 3)

In the first century AD, the Israelites continued to be obsessed with the restoration of their kingdom. Other than brief independence under the Hasmonean Dynasty (c142-37 BC), they had been ruled by foreign powers since the Babylonian Captivity six centuries before.

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INTRODUCTION   LESSON 1   LESSON 2

LESSON 3

ACTS 1:6-8

6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” 

The Lord continued attempting to patiently explain to his disciples that His was a spiritual kingdom. In His Olivet Prophecy, as recorded in Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21, He warned them that great tribulation was coming and what was left of the nation of Israel would cease to exist within a generation.

Then He shifted His answer to the immediate future when they would be endowed with a power giving them greater ability to understand. He told them they would become dynamic witnesses of the Gospel message. The Greek word is dunamis and is defined as “strength, ability, inherent power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth.” This would be an entirely different ballgame. The powerful OT prophets and John the Baptist had the spiritual power of God upon them, but they were not indwelt by the Spirit of the Lord. In fact, the Lord said:

11 “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” [Matthew 11:11]

How is this possible? John was obviously a great and fearless preacher, the forerunner of the Lord. He had what would otherwise be an impossible objective—to prepare the collective heart of the nation for a soon arriving future. For many, if not most, it would be a future of growing tribulation and destruction. The independence and freedom sought by the Jews would continually diminish just as John had prophesied:

7 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9 “Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” [Luke 3:7-9] [1]

smaller percentage of the people did repent, though not enough to save the nation, and it was the Community of this repentant Remnant composed entirely of Israelites that the Lord initially gathered as a spiritual people for a spiritual kingdom. For this, they would have to be like Him and receive His power. They must each be filled with the Holy Spirit.

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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THE HEBREW MONTH OF NISAN 2020: CROSSING THE JORDAN (Part 2)   

4/3/2020: According to the official Hebrew calendar, Nisan 10 begins tonight at sunset, meaning the anniversary of the Jordan River Crossing is tomorrow, April 4. In reality, however, according to the lunar cycle, it is today. See the above link for historical content.

ENTERTAINING ANGELS UNAWARE

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I remember one time, in my first year or so as a new believer, a bunch of us went downtown early one night to do some street witnessing. These occasions were always fun. You never knew what might happen.

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We would break up in a few groups with a plan to get back together in a central area later on. I had done a lot of witnessing in those early days but downtown was always a special time. It was all cold turkey with no set plan, meeting people you never knew. The city was very large but thanks to a thriving tourist trade you didn’t have to watch your every step. It had a small town feel and the downtown area had a long and eventful history. People were generally friendly and laid back. The areas we frequented were well lit and maintained, and not all that crowded.

We walked the streets, handed out tracts, and talked to whoever may listen or wish to carry on a conversation, and attempted to tell them about the Lord. You always had to find the proper balance and recognize open doors. One time, a brother and I were walking up a street and noticed a couple of sailors in uniform stopped at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change. The guy on the right was smoking a cigarette. I approached him and, handing him a tract, said “God wants you to have this.” He looked right at me, got really angry, tossed his cigarette down, and replied, “You can keep your God…” I apparently struck a nerve. This often happens when sharing the Gospel in such a raw manner. One never knows what emotions may come to the surface when innocently touching a past experience or memory. God gets blamed for a lot for things He had nothing to do with.

Later on we all gathered back together at the preplanned meeting area on an active street. Someone might have brought a guitar. We used the term “edified” quite a lot back then. It was a spiritually edifying experience to hang out with your friends who had the Lord in common and enjoyed His work. Everyone was having a great time. We would share stories of the night’s events.

At one point I walked by myself a short ways to a busy corner bus stop. There was a bus parked on the side street with the engine running getting ready to load up. I thought I might try to talk to a few of the people milling around. After just arriving at the spot, I saw in my peripheral vision someone walking toward the bus in my direction. He seemed to appear out of nowhere. As he came into view I turned to face him, hoping to get a word in as he walked up. He was a relatively tall distinguished man dressed well in a light-colored tailored suit. His appearance was different somehow. There was a look about him. I approached, handed him a tract, and told him why I was there. He listened politely, his face never changing expression. Then, in answer to me, he kind of looked off into the distance and said, “Yeah, I’ve been wanting to look into that.” He turned and walked off, getting lost in the crowd. I never saw him again.

Right away, I was struck by what he said because it reminded me of the following verse:

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. [1Peter 1:12]

And this:

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. [Hebrews 13:2 KJV][1]

On those downtown streets years ago, in the midst of a curious occurrence, I believed I had just met my first angel.

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

AMID CHRISTIAN DIVISION AND LEFT-RIGHT HATE FEUDS, REAL COMMUNICATION HONORS THE GOLDEN RULE

         Much of what passes for open dialogue remains agenda-based, market-driven, and brand-centered. It majors on division and ignorance rather than love and an honest search for truth.

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THE NEED FOR NEW WINESKINS

         Concerned Christian people continue to discuss the fact that with each succeeding generation here in America, more members of the younger generation are opting out of church membership and decline attendance at churches. The claim is made that as many as two-thirds of young people are “walking away from the church” by the time they reach college age. I hear what should otherwise be quite learned and mature ministers speak about the American culture diverging from the traditional church to the point that a great divide has transpired and something within the American culture must change quickly in order to stop this process or all will be lost.

         I say ministers such as these have got it all backwards. They are making excuses for their own irrelevance and inability or unwillingness to reach out effectively. They continue to insist on old wineskins and the rejection of new wine. Of course, many ministers and churches have long since watered down their programs to virtual nothingness in their efforts to be seeker friendly. They offer almost zero conviction for sinners looking to be saved. Their programs are essentially spiritually worthless though they may appear to be successful outwardly. Some of these have even managed to grow into mega churches using this approach. Instead of being salt and light, they have lowered themselves to the culture, which has absolutely no salt and no light.

THE REAL AND CORRECT APPROACH

         This is the opposite approach that should be taken. The Lord Jesus never took this approach. He told the truth regardless of what it cost Him. Though He would go anywhere and talk to anyone regardless of their condition or station in life, He never lowered Himself to become like the culture but commanded that we must become like Him. That’s bold.

         It’s the picture of an otherwise impossible, incredible personal strength bringing forth reactions in others of utter shock and soul-shattering conviction while wrapped in pure humility and grace.

         This was the great love of God within a Man doing all to reach us, but with a heavenly respect we do not deserve and completely devoid of compromise. In other words, God is expressing His greatness and devotion by never changing or reducing His greatness but also relaying that He will pay any price for us even unto dying for us. Quick question: How many great and powerful people do you have in your life willing to die for you?

         The reaction to the powerful presence of the Lord Jesus by the unrepentant evil forces was, as in accordance with natural law, opposite and equal. No one continually attacks a righteous man, for example, and eventually kills him in a rage if that man represents no threat to an evil kingdom and is the epitome of Mr. Nice Guy. Though warm and accommodating, the Lord is also the epitome of salt and light—spiritual salt with its powers of preservation and accentuation, and a shining light that both reveals the path ahead and exposes all the evil minions and their disguised and disgusting operations and enterprises.

         When the Lord Jesus walked among them His commanding presence was greatly felt and duly noted. Sinners were scared. Demons were petrified. Strong men were taken aback. He was the opposite of the wimpy pastors of then and now.

         They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. [Mark 1:22]

         “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.” [John 7:46]  

CULTURE SWING?

         Is the American culture growing farther away from God in a general sense? That argument can certainly be made although one must recognize the fact that there are millions of righteous people here existing in relative obscurity off the social media radar. They get little or no press. Their presence must be factored in instead of us going only by the great sins of the headlines and major media. Therefore, rather than the entire country about to fall off a cliff with no hope of a turnaround, what is actually happening is that there is a large contingent of unacknowledged Americans living their lives in such a way that better defines them as mountain climbers rather than cliff fallers.

         This means the entire construct of a divided America being the difference between good wholesome conservative church-goers on the right who have been correct all along and should not even think about changing, and another group of largely young leftist liberal activists intent on replacing whatever remains of American traditional righteousness and morality is not only pure nonsense and completely wrong, it is not conducive whatsoever to bringing real spiritual solutions and honest communication. In addition, if one were to total up the membership lists of these two groups one would discover that they don’t come close to comprising all of America. One would actually discover that about half the country is missing and largely unaccounted for. Where are they?

         Many are not attending church or marching in the streets. They simply don’t buy into the Divide and Conquer strategy put forth a few decades ago designed to drive major media ratings and earn corporate profits. This unrecognized population group also sees that untold billions of dollars are being wasted not only by bloated government programs but also by what may be termed ineffective traditional Christianity doing what it has always done, and it does not want to be a part of that scenario either. It may be that the bulk of these Americans are not avowed Christians but they have a level of righteousness that often exceeds that of the other two groups.

         Many social justice warriors on the left thoroughly believe they have joined a righteous cause and some of their arguments are solid. Many conservative traditional Christians on the right have also proven to have solid arguments as well. The big unknown and largely undefined group of Americans that do not fit either category also have solid reasons for living the lives they live and believing as they do. The odds are that these three groups will remain separate and continue to believe their respective ways are the best, although I must note that the third is not actually a group by definition, but simply a collection of all those who are not in the other two. The first two groups, in a general sense, wrap their entire identities within their group’s practices and mores and are most likely to be more strident and less likely to change. They are forever stridently defending their positions against one another as if doomsday will quickly descend without their contribution and that the earth will blow up or Christianity will be destroyed. Thus, both reject any attempt at dialogue toward finding common ground.

COMMUNICATING WITH LOVE AND RESPECT

         The third group? Not so much, which makes it unique in that it is often more open minded and willing to listen. It has not bought into the left-right paradigm and consequently remains free. And this is the key. Once one has jettisoned communication and refuses to promote dialogue and discussion with sincerity and humility, then one has eliminated the only means of bridging the gap. Remember, the reason someone came up with the concept of the political right and left is because the people on these sides have usually gone beyond the point of no return regarding the middle, which is supposedly inhabited by everyone else. (But I don’t mean the muddled middle, the dwelling place of apathy and a disregard for staying somewhat informed.) I am instead referring to the location which has no left, right, or middle compass bearings. This is the place where people can communicate with both sides and promote such communication. Though many reject the idea, it is actually possible to communicate with people in which one has no discernible agreement.

         For Christians, isn’t this exactly what we are supposed to do? Did not the Lord command us to go out and witness and share the Gospel? And are not the odds fairly high that we will find disagreement in the process?

         Real Christians understand that it is often the case that a person must be compelled to leave a burning, sinking ship only because he or she does not perceive that the ship is burning and sinking.

         Real Christians are sent out on rescue missions knowing full well they may be blasted by the very people they are trying to help. It is that way in sharing the Gospel with non-Christians. Sadly, it is also that way in attempting to share truth with Christians. Both have their fallout. Elements of both will reject you. But opening lines of communication with both can also be richly rewarding.

         I am glad someone was persistent with me when it came time to share the Gospel. I may never have met the Lord otherwise. And I am also glad that once I became a Christian other believers were willing to share more truth with me. Much of the latter, however, eventually did not come through personal discussion but by literature. This is why written works and books are so greatly beneficial. The authors thereof do much research, capture facts and truths of the ages, and preserve them on the written page which lives on after their passing. Books have an extremely long shelf life, pardon the pun, and exist as an excellent form of learning and communication though it is obviously not direct. Also, we live in a time when almost all preserved books and publications of the past, even the ancient past, can be accessed. This is proving excellent in the discovery of greater truth, especially when it comes to Biblical truth and the Lord’s teachings.

         Up until the last few years we were all subjected for the most part to direct censorship and a complete lack of access to other points of view and the truths inherent within such truths. Now the only thing stopping a searcher of truth is laziness, a lack of spiritual hunger, or a stubborn attitude in insisting one already knows it all and has it right. The latter attitude is what has always caused evil people to gain control and authority over others and imprison them within the confines of fake knowledge, false interpretations and narratives, and downright propaganda. Indeed, using this particular means is how the devil is often most successful. Rather than communicate such people greatly prefer to repress truth and indoctrinate.

         “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” [Matthew 7:1-2]

         There is a right way and a wrong way to communicate. It must never be for purely selfish reasons. It must be because of a desire to help others. It must be because one is compelled to share truth and answers with those who are searching for it and need it. Communication must model the Lord’s method. He obviously knew His teachings would last two thousand years and taught in such a way to reflect that, and in a manner that translates into all times and cultures. We should all know that there is no law against godly love and most people will see no need to defend against it. This is why our communication will be incredibly more effective if we show forth the love of God and make the person we are talking to the object of respect and honor rather than simply wanting to win an argument.

         The Golden Rule of Real Communication is that is must be based on the Golden Rule.

         “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 7:12] [1]   

         © 2017 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

WITNESSING FOR THE LORD: Meet Charlie, the Strongest Man I Ever Met (2)

         I can never forget the testimony of a man who was a very good friend. Long ago, someone took the time to witness to Him, casting personal risk aside.

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         He was probably in his mid-to-late thirties and about a decade and a half older than me. He had a loving wife and a bunch of kids. I had never known him before he was born again but he had been a rough character, a man no one would mess with. He was a solid family man and he worked hard. He was a construction worker, a foreman, and lived in the country some distance away. He had a hard row to hoe to pack up a large family with several little kids and head off to church four times a week, but he was always there. His smile lit up the whole place. He was a great example of how the Lord could melt even the most powerful heart.

         When Charlie met the Lord Jesus, he finally met his match, and then some. Charlie found out that the Lord was a lot stronger than he was, that He was a bigger and better Man, and that He was the greatest man’s Man who ever lived. Charlie surrendered to his Maker.

         I don’t know who witnessed to him but that family’s salvation was one of the great boons to our group. I have worked in construction for many years. I worked in the oil industry a long time as well. I have met hundreds of strong men. There is a culture in these blue collar fields that one had better respect. I am ever thankful to my Dad for teaching me early on how to thrive in the world of real men who do their job, who won’t be denied, and who know there is a job to be done, that must be done, and will get done.

         But among all these guys I have still never met a man who was as physically strong as Charlie. My Dad always taught me when I was a kid to give a strong handshake, and I did. But this man had the strongest handshake I ever felt, and that was decades ago. I know he had to torque it down when he shook hands with other men because, if he wanted to, he could mash your hand to a pulp. I am serious. He could break your hand. The best defense is to squeeze the other guy’s hand harder than he is squeezing yours, or just as hard. But it wouldn’t work with him. He was strong as an ox. Two oxes. There were times when I had him in a good grip and looked him in the eye and told him to go a little more and he would smile and clamped down just about an extra ounce and I knew my hand would be withered in a heartbeat and quickly told him to back off. This has never happened with anyone else. Ever.

         So now I think I know what happened to that guy with the withered hand in the Bible. He met Charlie before Charlie got saved.

         It’s hard to explain to people who have never been filled with the Holy Spirit about the transformation that takes place. Charlie was undoubtedly a very rough character but after he was filled with the Lord’s Spirit his face glowed like an angel. He was God’s middle linebacker, still tough as nails and solid as a rock but with a loving, tender heart. He was always smiling and trying to hold back from laughing in that shy way he had. He could not contain all the joy the Lord filled him with though he tried. Every service he was back there in the back row. He did that because he had so many young kids, about half a dozen, and did not want to disrupt the service. He and his lovely wife, also filled gloriously with the Holy Ghost, were all lined up back there. The kids always stayed in line but were still kids and were also smiling all the time. They made it work. It is not natural to make little kids do that but they managed it very well. They were such happy people. I think Charlie knew even more than I did that he had been hell bound and got rescued. He would be forever grateful and showed it always.

         He told me that before the Lord rescued him he drank a half bottle of hard liquor every day. He smoked two or three packs of cigarettes every day. And he worked very hard every day. This man was tough as nails. Then somebody witnessed to him. Some real Christian answered the call and witnessed to Charlie. Charlie could have done some serious damage.

         We all know how some will go off half-cocked when they get witnessed to. There is sometimes a lot of hate and one must have enough love to overcome it. Only the Lord has that kind of love but He must work through people to show it. This is a hard, tough world, and many people are filled with a lot of pain. They’ve been treated bad and they’re angry. And they don’t like it when told it is somehow their fault. They need our help and understanding.

         When the Lord reached out from heaven through a brave witness, instead of getting angry, Charlie listened. Maybe he knew he was a mess and really wanted to change but wasn’t going to be forced into becoming some fake girly man and succumb to religion. The Lord knew that. So he sent Charlie a real witness to witness about the real thing. The Lord was not going to force Charlie to surrender his manhood but just the opposite. He wanted him to be the real man he wanted to be but with a godly heart.

         The Lord filled Him with His Spirit. He delivered him from his cigarette habit. He took away his desire for alcohol. Charlie stopped cussing and fighting and began smiling and loving. He could still break you in two, though, and you had to be careful—you had to watch out for exuberant hugs. He became a solid witness for His Lord and Savior and though he didn’t talk much he was the very picture of Christian strength.

         I want to close with a funny incident that will give you a tad more insight into the joy we all felt in Charlie’s presence. Before I go on, there was one thing I touched on previously about Charlie but didn’t tell the whole story.

         Charlie was so full of spiritual joy he continued smiling and doing these little laughs even after we all settled into our seats and church got going. It was just part of his good nature that the Lord accentuated with His own. This was an active Spirit-filled congregation of lively people so it was not always possible to contain one’s self. Charlie would often continue expressing his happiness and gratitude throughout the service. He was way in the back but everyone always knew it was just Charlie being Charlie. Some of us may say “Amen!” but he would do a chuckle. It added greatly to a joyful atmosphere.

         One night, a traveling minister came to the church. He was a big guy in a black suit with a commanding presence. He was also blind. He’s up there preaching and we’re down there in the pews, being properly respectful if not more so, and not quite sure what was transpiring before us. It was pretty hushed.

         Well, the preacher must have said something Charlie really liked. Showing his unbound appreciation, Charlie did one of his customary good-natured manly chuckles that just happened to project quite well. The preaching stopped. The combination of church quiet and back bench acoustics made the preacher think he was being laughed at! It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen in church and I could write a book on the subject. The blind preacher rebuked Charlie from the pulpit! He hollered, “You may think this is funny! But I’m preaching up here!”

         We all started stifling laughter at the initial shock and some of us turned around and looked back at poor Charlie who obviously meant no harm and was real embarrassed. He was red as a beet and had a weird grin on his face coming down from a joy high and was not quite sure what to do. But just like his Lord, Charlie took it like a man. And he understood. 

         © 2017 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.

WITNESSING FOR THE LORD: Shining a Light on the Path of Salvation (1)

         The world is filled with hungry people searching for life and truth. They know there must be something more than this temporary surface existence. We must reach out to them.

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CAN I GET A WITNESS?

         I remember well my early experience as a rookie Christian. The church building was relatively new but somewhat sparse. There were many empty pews. It needed filling up. The preacher was always preaching about witnessing. I certainly complied. I was always witnessing—at work, on the street, wherever I was, whatever I was doing—I was always witnessing.

         Why? Because people were going to hell. They needed to be saved. I had dodged hell and so must they. The Lord turned me on to His incredible life and love and I wanted the whole world to have what I had. Before being shown the path of salvation, I didn’t know I was on the wrong road. I was a sinner but didn’t know it before I met the Lord.

         For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. [Hebrews 2:1-4] [1]

THE FIRST WITNESS

         I rejected them the first time they came. These were close friends. A young married couple. I was a tad younger. I had known them a few years. We hung out together. I hadn’t seen them in a while. The news was they got religion and I could not understand how they could be so dumb. They used to be so cool. What the heck happened to them? If they had joined a cult it would have been different. Weird but different. But they joined a church! What a joke! The great respect I had for them was no more.

         They came over to tell me all about it. They said I needed to do what they had done. I was very friendly and open. I listened to their story. But they were brand new Christians and were not so good at what they were trying to do. They certainly had the heart and desire but they came on pretty strong. I was too mature for that. I knew too much. I could see through them. I was nice to them and tried hard to understand. We had a relatively good discussion at first. I told them I was happy for them but I could not go in that direction. I wanted no part of their church stuff. I didn’t want what they were selling. They persisted. I told them if they didn’t stop they needed to leave. I stayed strong. I never lost my cool. They got bummed out and left. They had done their best. I knew they cared. But they failed in their mission and were sad. That was that.  

THE SECOND WITNESS

         Then one day, after three months of no contact with them, I received a second witness. They never gave up. Instead, they went into prayer with other unknown people who shared their concern. This is a very important point because the Lord often has to do things in the Spirit that we are not aware of to have ultimate success. We usually never know about all the in-between things that must happen in spiritual warfare and prayer battles. In this case, He had to prepare me for another opportunity which would in all probability be the last. There might not ever be another chance in my life like this one. It was imperative that I receive this Word. Sometimes, people build up a hardness of heart that can never be overcome.

         To remedy that, the Lord had managed to break me down over that time. I went from being strong and confident to somewhat insecure. I had no idea what was happening but the Lord had been preparing me for a second witness. He was plowing a field and I was the field. He knew I had been searching for Him for roughly four years but I didn’t know that. I was searching for TRUTH. That’s what I was after. I had determined right out of high school that I would find out what was really going on behind the scenes in this world. I had been doing an exhaustive search of various belief systems the world over. I knew there was something more and was determined to find it. I would never stop. By that time in my young life I had already rejected organized Christianity because the version I knew (and knew very well) offered nothing on a deep spiritual level.

       Keep in mind, however, that though I was completely fed up with “Christianity,” I never ever rejected the Lord Jesus. I always thought He was the coolest Guy. How could anyone in their right mind be against Him?

         For the second witness only she came over. She had given her life to the Lord before her husband and was instrumental in getting him saved. Both had strong born again experiences but her gifting made her more persistent. Both had matured spiritually and she did a better job this time. There was less pressure and more joy.

         At one point when we were talking she suddenly said, “Wow! I feel the presence of God in this room!” I didn’t know what she was talking about but I felt it too. This was not the same kind of witness as before. She didn’t come alone after all.

         Thanks to the Lord Jesus who never gave up, and to the loving witness He sent who never gave up either who went out of her way to find me and tell me all about the Lord and spiritual reality, the scales on my eyes fell off. It was the Lord’s presence on that occasion that made the difference. I suddenly realized it all made sense. This was it! I had been searching for truth for so long and had found it. The truth was Him. I surrendered to the Lord that night. It was easy and the best decision I ever made.

NOW COMES THE HARD PART

         I also had to submit to the Lord’s next directive. This is the way it works. The Man gave His life for us. We give our lives to Him. And that makes Him the One in charge. We must do what He says. We must trust Him.

         He wanted me to go somewhere. When I found out where, it was the last place I ever thought I would find truth. He wanted me to attend their dreaded church. Oh no! It would be like going to the blasted dentist. But worse. I had been forced to go to church about a million times growing up and had learned to want no part of it. There was nothing there anyway. All that had long since become way back in my rear view mirror. This church thing was going to be a hard sell. It took more convincing and more “preparing.” Long story short, the Lord won the argument. I was in no position to fight Him. I went.

         I found out churches are different! This one was nothing like the one I grew up in. The people were lively and happy. I was very well received. There was an excitement in the air. This was a place with the presence of the Lord. Later on I heard the Word of God from a very good preacher. I had never seen or heard preaching like this. The Word of God came alive. I was almost instantly convicted. The Lord planted the Gospel seed in my plowed up heart. I gave Him my life, hook, line, and sinker, and never looked back. A few weeks later I was filled with His Spirit!

SPIRITUAL STEROIDS

         After my born again experience I set my mind on telling everyone I knew about the Lord Jesus—the One who saved me, the One who went to the cross in my place. I wanted everyone to have the salvation I had. Sin no longer had any power over me. I was set free. I wanted everyone else to be set free also. Combining my strong spiritual hunger with a powerful born again experience set me loose as a witnessing juggernaut.

         In time I found out that people in general didn’t share the same passion I had. I often had the same experience of the two who first witnessed to me when I rejected them. It can be discouraging. It is hard to understand why a person does not want all the Lord has for them and had to die to make it available. I learned that many people are simply not so spiritually hungry. They are happy with life as it is. They would rather stay on the surface. I had to learn to follow the leading of the Lord more closely.

         Witnessing is therefore not so easy but is obviously vital. There is no other way to be saved. We are commanded to tell the Gospel story. People must know the truth—the TRUTH. We must turn people on to the Lord. Whatever He has put on your heart and called you to do, be encouraged. There is an inexhaustible supply of every spiritual means available that can be applied. It truly is the case that all things are possible with God.

         Many people were doing their share of witnessing in that relatively small congregation I was blessed to be a part of long ago. We had success to a degree but it never resulted in the level of success we wanted until much further down the road. Many would visit. Few would stay. But some of those who did stay were solid and strong. In time, several years later, the floodgates opened.

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         In my next post I will introduce you to one of the people there in those early days. His name was Charlie. He was a bad dude brought into the love of the Lord because someone made a bold move and the serious risk to witness to him.

         © 2017 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved. [To Be Continued.]


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

WAIT. WHAT? Foiled By a Loose Cannon

         Many years ago I was working as the lead carpenter on a residential job in a relatively upscale section of a large city. The homeowners were a respected middle-aged couple. He was a professor at a local university. She was from England. The state governor lived nearby.

         The professor was a good guy, relatively happy, and bookish. Because of his job he was rarely home and I never talked to him much. She had a strong English accent, a proper manner, and was well educated. It was one of the reasons we had good conversations. I was relatively well-read and knowledgeable of the classics.

         Due to the way I was motivated as a witness for the Lord, I had slowly begun to talk to her during breaks about spiritual things and we eventually had some limited conversations about Christianity. They were Christians, of the Protestant variety. I had an idea to invite them to church like I did with so many people I witnessed to, but I figured it would be a difficult thing to accomplish in their case.

         I was going to a large Spirit-filled church at that time. It was known by one visiting teacher who spoke there on occasion as “The Church of What’s Happening Now.” It had gone through a big growth phase a few years earlier and had been transformed from a small old-school Pentecostal church to an innovative and wonderful place due to a large influx of newly born again university students and younger people. Many of these were set free to use their youthful expertise to make some powerful positive changes. It was a great place to be.

         The day came when I suggested we get to know each other’s Christian traditions better by actually attending each other’s churches. She was open to the idea. It took a long time to get to this point. I was always one to move slowly because I knew how the enemy could disrupt a good plan at a moment’s notice. She asked her husband about it. And what a joy it was when she told me they were agreeable. I was just a young carpenter on a job site and they were up there in the social ranks. I could not help but see the hand of God.

         We agreed to go to their church first. My wife and I met them there. I cannot remember the denomination, but it was one of those upscale places where everything was relatively quiet and low key amidst high-end adornment and a very traditional setting. The place was very tastefully decorated.

         The service was somewhat monotonous compared to what I preferred and was used to. There was certainly no moving of the Spirit of God. It was intellectually-based. But my wife and I were thoroughly polite. The older couple liked us. Afterwards, as I recall, we shared a small meal on site and got to know each other a little better. There were smiles all around. I appreciated their wonderful attitude and the way they embraced a young couple interested in finding common Christian ground.

         It might have been the next week when they were to reciprocate and visit our church. My wife was in the choir so it would be just me in the pew. It turned out her husband the professor couldn’t make it. Maybe he didn’t want to. This was, as everyone knew, a large Spirit-filled Pentecostal church pretty much on the very opposite end of the spectrum from their much more traditional format. I’m sure it must have invoked some difficulty for them.

         I met her out in the vestibule and she was polite and smiling, and somewhat upbeat. I believe she really was interested even though the place was never something she would choose on her own. Again, she was from England, was used to a high church format, and moved in some high circles. It was so cool that this was actually happening.

         Though I greatly appreciated Spirit-filled gatherings, I confess that I had also developed an embarrassment of Pentecostal excess. This was the early 1980s. I was still connected to some very old school Pentecostal people and traditions, some of which were really silly, and some even a tad dark. There was a thread of redneckism to be dealt with. There was also an anti-intellectual element. It is certainly true that many Pentecostals came from the other side of the tracks and were not necessarily very well educated. But I can also honestly say that I had never met more warm, fun, and engaging people. Most were open to the Lord and were willing to do whatever He required, reputations be damned.

         So there we were, standing in the pews while the choir sang. It was a tremendous choir. So much about this place was so far ahead of the curve. It set the tone for many churches across the country. Long before the word “progressive” was appropriated and used for other purposes, I used to refer to this place as “Progressive Pentecost.” Many great things happened there. There was an openness to many fields of study. It was composed of all ages and races, a truly open and colorblind church.

         I can’t remember exactly what happened next. It seems it was still in the early part of the service. We were all standing. I remember I had worked so hard to get this lady to visit. She trusted me. I had always shown her the grace of God. I was certainly concerned that some excessive thing might happen that would turn her off but was never prepared for what did happen. I was trying so hard to be low-key and normal, maybe a hard thing to do in a full blown Pentecostal service among many hundreds of people. To affect this attitude in my attempt to be cool and not a religious redneck, I happened to have my hands in my slacks pockets as I stood there. I was really hoping that she would be touched by the Spirit of God and had been silently praying.

         In the midst of a little commotion on the platform the preacher suddenly grabbed a microphone and started speaking to the crowd. There was a move of the Spirit and I think he was trying to get everyone’s mind on God and to pay attention. Of course, I would think everyone WAS paying attention. We could all feel the Spirit of God. Everyone was respectful and obeying protocol. But rather than let the Lord wash over us and bless us with some peace and His presence, the preacher, as he was wont to do, had to take over.

         Completely messing up a good thing, he actually started to berate people. He’s walking quickly across the platform and pointing out individuals and then back to the other side, his eyes going from those closest to those toward the back. Everyone was on eggshells. This happened way too much but because of our respect for the proceedings we all thought it was God, that God was anointing him to go off like that. I learned later that was not the case. I got older. I grew spiritually. I eventually figured out that this anointed man of God who did so many wonderful things had a tendency to turn into a complete nutcase on occasion.

         Now, most of us do this. Sometimes we are very tired. We do not get enough sleep. The pressures of life can be very strong. We lose our tempers. We prove our humanity. But in the course of a church service when people really need the Lord, it should never happen or should at least be rare.

         As he was raising his voice and pointing people out I began to get seriously embarrassed for my visitor. I was afraid this would happen. But I never expected what did happen. Why? –Because I had obeyed the Lord and was guided by Him to bring this classy friend of mine to church in hopes of her growing in the Lord, being introduced to something new and great, and possibly getting filled with the Holy Spirit!

         The preacher’s crazy eyes fell on me. He pounced. I couldn’t believe it. “Get your hands out of your pockets!” Wait. What? He had no clue whatsoever what the Lord was up to with my visitor or what I was attempting to accomplish.

         Right away she told me she had to leave. She saw him looking at her also and was shaken. She wasn’t waiting around. She had to get out of there. Still smiling, she began to exit the pew. I followed her out. We talked briefly at the doors but it did no good. She was leaving.

         The entire witness was ruined. All the prayer, effort, and work was wasted. A wonderful opportunity went right down the drain. Right at the finish line.

         There are so many stories like this. The lack of accountability among the preacher ranks has always been the chief reason why such things happen. It is why the Lord always appointed several elders in the early churches and NEVER a single “pastor.” And such sordid behavior is certainly not contained to Pentecostal churches. It happens everywhere, in all denominations, and is continually reinforced and rarely challenged. There are far too many blowhards who do and say whatever they feel like and next to no one in the churches has the guts to speak correctively. Everyone knows what will happen if they do.

         Perhaps we are now in a time when that can change.

         © 2016 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.

BLOWOUT! (Part 2)

         We are presently living in a time when societal pressure is rapidly increasing the world over. The pressure must be allowed to vent, but the venting must be done in such a way that society remains generally intact. As the pressure continues increasing, however, the venting must also be increased. Otherwise, a massive blowout could take place.

         There is currently a relatively minor blowout happening in the Middle East. The so-called Arab Spring that dashed onto the scene in the spring of 2011 actually began in December of 2010 in Tunisia. It quickly spread to Egypt and Libya. The leaders of these countries have been deposed or murdered. And there is more to come.

         But this is not the big blowout many are expecting. It is merely a way to vent the growing pressure while keeping the area intact. New governments are forming.

         In America, the pressure is being very well contained through several means. Politicians and unethical economists are lying about the vast extent of our national problems. The major media continues to dumb-down millions of Americans by giving them a place to vent and keep them satisfied that all is well. People watch much television and burn up talk radio phone lines with an endless succession of gripes. We all complain to one another.

         But nothing actually changes. It is only venting. The pressure is being slowly bled-off.

         Americans are also being drugged into submission. The use of legal drugs, such as several different forms of anti-depressants, far exceed the use of illegal drugs, which makes the “war on drugs” entirely disingenuous. There are many people who are properly diagnosed. Many others are drugged for the wrong reasons. An entire generation of school-aged boys, for example, were administered such drugs as Ritalin just to keep them from being boys so they would fit better into an artificial school system.

         But societal pressure continues to rise and expand rapidly. People know there is something terribly wrong.

         Something bad this way comes…

         Biblical prophecy clearly speaks of a time at the end when the entire construct of mankind’s sinful society or kosmos will explode. It will be the great end time blowout. There is nothing to be done about this. It is a massive volcano in the making.

         Societal masters have therefore learned how to contain and control societal pressure through inauspicious though temporarily “safe” venting: Create a fantasy world and drug ‘em. Create a fantasy world and drug ‘em. Create a fantasy world and drug ‘em. The best and most far-reaching drug is alcohol.

         America has therefore become in many respects, it seems, a fake and shiny amusement-shopping park with ubiquitous television screens and communication gadgets, which also serve as forms of addictive drugs.   

         Many of our older citizens in nursing homes live out their remaining days tucked neatly in bed. They are often drugged because it is totally unnatural to imprison a human spirit in that way, and the inhabitants would otherwise fight against the restraints.  

         As population densities increase, more laws against behavior must be created to keep the machine running smoothly, but pressure is all the while increasing to an inevitable breaking point. This is why measures have long since been taken to contain American society when it blows. So far, the venting process has been a huge success.

         There is only one problem for the devil and his minions, however: The Spirit of God cannot be contained, controlled, dumbed-down, or drugged.

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

         “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [John 3:8] [1]  

         © 2013 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved. [To Be Continued.]


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.