Wind of the Spirit

Wind is invisible; known only by its effects. When surrounding trees are still, we conclude that there is no wind. If we live by a lake or on the seashore we gauge the wind’s intensity by the height of the waves.

Like the wind, the Holy Spirit is invisible; We discern His presence by His effects. Since He convicts “the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement”(John 16:8), where we see conviction of sin we know the Spirit isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA at work. Where sin is denied or redefined or relativized, as happens throughout our societies, we conclude that the Holy Spirit is being hindered. Where righteousness is rare and wickedness is exalted; where no fear of judgement exists we should cry for God to move among us.

Without the Spirit’s work we are bereft of the anguish that attends conviction of sin which, in turn, moves us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Without repentance and faith people cannot be converted. And without conversions there can be no transformed lives. And without transformed lives social transformation cannot occur. Perversion and wickedness will continue to spread.

Our societies need many more people re-born of the Spirit—converted. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”(John 3: 7,8).

Without being born again by the Spirit, we will not be able to overcome the acts of our sinful natures; “immorality,…hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition”(See Gal. 5:19-21 for the full list). Without the Holy Spirit we will not be able to produce the fruit of the Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”(Gal. 5:22,23).

Surely, we don’t want societies where hatred, discord and fits of age endure as we have seen recently in some of our cities and around the world. We all long for societies where love and peace and gentleness and self-control predominate. That can only happen as one person at a time is transformed by the Spirit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet’s ask the Holy Spirit to spread ripples of blessing from our lives. As individual Christians we depend so much on the invisible work of this Counselor, Comforter, biblical Interpreter. He leads us (Rom 8:14 ); strengthens us (Eph. 3:16 ); motivates us to love God and our neighbours (Gal. 1:8 ); enables us to overcome our tendency to be critical(Eph. 4:3); assures us we are God’s children (Rom. 8:16); and comforts us in pain and tragedy.

May the wind, or its absence, remind us to pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit to control us individually and create a hunger for righteousness in our villages, our towns, and our cities. Come Holy Spirit; make known the transforming love of Jesus Christ. Spread the good news of mercy and grace to all.

Preserving the Past

From our deck, I sometimes gaze up at the great trees that surround us. Towering white pines and red oaks. A giant sugar maple. What scenes have they ??????????witnessed during their century and a half of life? First nations’ warriors netting rainbow trout from our stream or hunting deer in the surrounding woods? Forest fires? Pioneers felling neighbouring trees to make room for fields? A bulldozer pushing a road through the woods.

The rings of wood they’ve laid down record their history: drought, rain, fires, or insect infestations. A skilled biologist may be able to re-construct their story by taking a sample core.

Mom's wedding picWhat of your family or mine? Will our grandchildren or great grandchildren be able to read about the ebb and flow of our life stories?

I regret having little knowledge of the early lives of my parents. What was their childhood like? How did they meet—and court? How did they endure the separation wrought by the First World War? I have some of the letters they wrote when my father went to France to fly surveillance of the enemy. But how did he survive when most pilots perished?

Pop Wright in Military U Since I was much younger than my three brothers, I knew little of family lore and Dad seldom talked about his life. I feel a great sense of loss and a concern that our grandchildren will have no idea about our past beyond our own lives.

Perhaps it’s neurotic to express concern about the past. After all, it’s gone, never to be repeated. We should live in the now; look to the future. Be optimistic. But wait, haven’t we been warned that he who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it? And nations in the 20th and 21st centuries keep repeating the same unbelievably horrific atrocities.

Pop's biplaneWe must not forget the two world wars, the Holocaust, the Cold War, Korea, Viet Nam, Uganda, Cambodia, and China’s cultural revolution. Did the people of St. Louis forget Selma? Have we forgotten the atrocities committed against our aboriginal people? Has humanity learned nothing?

Remembering is important whether on a national or a personal scale; whether it be of secular events or spiritual milestones. The feasts of Israel were set up so that the nation might remember their deliverance from Egypt, the wilderness wanderings, and other events in their history. “Do not forget the things your eyes have seen…Teach them to your children and to their children after them”(Deut. 4:9).

At the core of our Christian faith is a need to remember. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper to remember the death of Christ for our sins until the day He comes again. “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me”(Luke 22:19). Plus we have Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, to name a few special Hall clan...days.

On a cosmic scale our family memories may seem relatively unimportant, and yet they are! Will our grandchildren understand the importance of our conversion experiences, our calling to Christian ministry, the providential circumstances that led Mary Helen and I together, the amazing way God provided for our needs again and again and again?

We should all do what we can to preserve our stories so our families don’t forget to give thanks to God for His grace and leading. They might also learn from our mistakes!

[Pelican ebooks remain free for download until Easter! See: http://pelicanbookgroup.com/ec/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=145

Love in a Time of Ice & Snow

Thick coat, check. Scarf, gloves and toque, check. Bundled up to brave the stinging cold, I head outside to shovel the sidewalk. Brr. We’ve just endured the coldest month on record in Southern Ontario!

It makes us thankful for the inventor of forced air furnaces and the technicians that keep them going. For hot water heaters and those who invented stoves and microwaves and toasters and coffee pots. How wonderful it is to brew a hot cup of coffee or warm up a cup of soup on a cold winter day.

Winter cold will not last. And who wants a furnace blasting hot air through the house in the middle of summer? But there is a kind of warmth we can’t do without—the warmth of love. Loving relationships make the winter much easier ???????????????????????????????to bear. “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”(1 Cor. 13:13 ). Our world needs love so very badly.

The other day, friends suggested we go out to lunch together. During the meal we caught up on events in each other’s lives and learned even more about what makes each other tick. Then just a few days later new friends invited us to their home for dinner to help them celebrate an event in the husband’s career.

Although much younger than us, this vibrant family refreshed our hearts immensely. Loving friends ease one’s way through life. With our own snow blower broken, one of our neighbours suddenly appeared one evening during a snow storm to clear our driveway. He then left his machine with us to use while he was out of the country on business. Two weeks of unrelenting snow storms bracketed his absence. What would we have done without his thoughtfulness? Jesus said, “love your neighbour as yourself,” reminding us to look for ways to be kind to those around us.

Winterloghm, cropped“Love you, grandma.” “Love you, dad.” Few things are as wonderful as the love one receives from one’s children and grandchildren. How grateful we are for every call, every text, every email, from our family. How sad we feel for those estranged from family love.

Church gets a lot of flak, but we look forward to the weekly meetings, not just to hear the Word of God proclaimed, but to connect with God’s people. Here is a group with which we have eternity in common. Christian love offered and received makes the winter much easier to bear and spreads warmth throughout the community.

In the design of God, the love between a husband and wife transcends all other human loves. And when, through God’s grace, it lasts as ours has for half a century, we lift our voices together in eternal gratitude. What is winter when we can encourage each other and snuggle together through the storms?

But of all the loves that make life rich and winters short, none exceeds the love of God. As the hymn writer declares,

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Truly, love makes the world go round!

(For country books and others by Eric E Wright see http://www.countrywindow.ca)

Winter Moon – Reflected Glory

When the winter moon rises over a snowy countryside it casts a magical spell unequalled by any creation of Hollywood. Its soft light highlights every tree. It illumines the tracks of coyotes and turkeys and even the lowly vole.

And yet the moon creates no light of its own. It reflects the brilliance of the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA In a similar way we are to reflect through our lives the grandeur of God. God created us in His image to reflect His glory.

By writing in Psalm 84 that “The Lord God is a sun,” the psalmist means God is the ultimate source of all light and life. He is the infinite, eternal, unchangeable fount of all goodness, grace, mercy, compassion, holiness, justice, wisdom, and truth. All creative genius flows from Him, as does the impetus for moral and ethical well-being. (See also James 1:17)

As His image bearers we should reflect into the world around us the moral attributes of God. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for [to reflect] the glory of God”(1 Cor. 10:31). Tragically, we have “all sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23) by yielding to our fallen nature. What can we do?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is only through fleeing to Jesus Christ to confess our sins that the dark cloud of our sinful selfishness that obscures God’s glory can be overcome. Once we have been cleansed through the work of the Holy Spirit, then we can become reflectors of God’s glory. “We who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”(2 Cor. 3:18).

How does this work in practice? “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise [glorify] your Father in heaven”(Matt. 5:14,16). As we give generously to others, we reflect God’s goodness. As we forgive others, we display the undeserved grace God bestows on us. As we have compassion on the poor, on refugees, motherless children, and widows we manifest the Lord’s tender heart. When we refuse to exaggerate, deceive, or lie we shed abroad the light of Truth. When we make wise decisions about our purchases and refusing to embrace debt, we shine light into theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA confusing world of modern finance. Transformed people shine God’s glory into the darkness of our decadent world.

Lord, like the moon which reflects the sun’s light, help us to reflect your glory through how we live. May we be honest, generous, compassionate, forgiving, creative, and wise–all through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Seeing Green Instead of Winter White

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen cold deepens and snow spreads a thick white blanket over the land, I sometimes see green. No, not the hopeful green of spring but the fetid green of jealousy. The howling of frigid winds make it harder than usual to fight off feelings of envy for those who have flown south to warmer climes or boarded some cruise headed for sunny seas.

What’s the matter with a little envy, you say? For one thing, it sullies the beautiful white blanket that the Snow Maker on High has thrown over the countryside. The sparkle of sunshine on a million snowflakes grates rather than makes glad. In my future I see shoveling and slush and mud and mess. But why should we allow today’s enjoyment of life to be soured by thoughts of what others have escaped?

This green monster troubles us in many ways besides urging us to envy those who have fled the frost. It provokes us into longing for another’s fine house, classy car, prestige, vibrant health, flush bank account, athletic prowess, musical ability, apparently perfect husband, or even spiritual depth.

Envy and its Siamese twin, jealousy kill gratitude. We fail to be grateful for a warm house, three meals a day, Internet connections, one’s fa??????????mily and friends, the birds that visit the bird feeder, the squirrels that scamper in the trees, the snowplough that clears the road, the soup simmering on the stove, a cup of coffee and a good book.

Envy and jealousy destroy our ability to savor life today. “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones”(Prov.14:30). Instead of enjoying what life brings we live in a perpetual state of discontent. “Godliness with contentment is great gain”(1 Tim. 6:6). When contentment settles into our bones, we are enabled to relish all that God gives us richly to enjoy.

Envy and jealousy foster friction, controversy, and quarrels. James reminds us that fights and quarrels arise from our covetous desires for what another has. “You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures”(James 4:2,3). Our prayers may even be tainted by wrong motives.

Envy and jealousy distort reality. If we were omniscient we would realize sunshine does not create utopia. Many of the warmest cities have high crime rates. Many equatorial countries rate far down on scales that measure democracy, drug use, violence, and poverty. And we must remember that vacationing people take their problems with them. Grouchy people grumble even on the beach where they lounge. Critical people find lots to fault in Miami or Jamaica.

Our home on a winter's dayMore to the point, envy and jealousy are sin. The tenth commandment prohibits covetousness. There is great danger here! Covetousness, jealousy and envy start wars, destroy families, separate friends. (See 1 Cor 3:3) Indeed, envy led the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to deliver him up for crucifixion. (Matt. 27:18) If we discover jealousy or envy corroding our attitudes, the first thing we need to do is confess our sin to God and ask Him to forgive us for Jesus’ sake—and show how to purge it from our life.

On an ongoing basis what should we do? Look around for what we may be missing in our own neighborhood. Is there someone or some ministry that we could help? Watching the world news on TV may give us a more reasonable perspective on how fortunate we are and that should spur feelings of gratitude. Enjoy each day as a day of grace from the hand of God Himself. Spend time in prayer and Bible reading. Ask the Holy Spirit to develop within us a feeling of contentment. And take someone out for coffee or a meal.

Disguising Our Problems

Twice in the last week or so, snowstorms have covered everything with a glistening white blanket. Before the snow came, the landscape was dingy. Every Snowstormdiscarded beer can along the roadway was visible; today all is hidden.

Snow hides ugliness whether it be a rusting tractor, garbage along a country road, an abandoned factory, or the toxic tailings from an old mine. Then the temperature rises. The snow melts. Ugliness again becomes visible.

As humans we are adept at disguising reality. We decorate the surface of our persons with facelifts, hair transplants, and designer clothing. Companies fund research facilities to find new ways to improve our appearance. We borrow to buy upscale cars and upscale homes so we can pretend to be one of the upper crust.

Our societies value camouflaging reality. We disguise our frightening debt beneath a mumbo-jumbo of economic terminology. We blame others for our own choices— our parents or our government. We order research studies and Royal Commissions. We demonize other cultures while ignoring our own flaws. Hide. Disguise. Pretend. Camouflage. Cloak. Masquerade.

But the root problems remain: selfishness, pride, arrogance, addiction, irresponsibility, dishonesty—the pervasive sinfulness of the human heart.

Jeremiah knew that you can’t paper over a national problem with platitudes, byOur home on a winter's day crying, ” peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (See Jer. 6:14) Ezekiel realized that humans cannot be mended until God does radical surgery. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 36:26).

As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “You must be born again”(John 3:7). Only the redeeming influence of the Holy Spirit who applies the blood of Christ to the inner fountains of our motivation can make us new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”(2 Cor.5:17)! New men and women gradually become kind, thoughtful, loving, forgiving, patient and creative citizens. Transformed individuals contribute to renewed and honest societies where truth matters.

I’m not saying that Christian conversion solves all problems. But expecting honest politicians and athletes and business people to just morph from the raw material of humanity is wishful thinking. The main problems of societies are moral and motivational. Convincing people about the transfo??????????rming power of the gospel is the best way to contribute to good communities.

Revivals have demonstrated this fact down through history. Witness the effect of the Reformation on Europe and the Evangelical Revivals on England and America. Toward that end let us live as true followers of Christ and pray for revival.

What Leads to Good or Evil Conduct; Nature or Nurture?

Why do some people display compassion and kindness while others act out a selfish, even evil agenda? Is the good a result of the natural temperament of the person or the nurture they received from their parents or community?

Let me give an example. Two young Canadians from the Ottawa Valley, both ending up in uniform in the Middle East, illustrate this conundrum. One, John??????????????????????????????? Maguire under his new name, Abu Anwar al-Canadi, travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State’s (ISIS) war on the west. The other, Dillon Hillier after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, has voluntarily paid his own way to Iraq to join the Kurdish Peshmerga militia in their fight against ISIS.

John Maguire, aka Abu Anwar, joined the Islamic State to spread terror in Syria and Iraq. He praised the two attacks on soldiers in Canada and urged more acts of terror. Dillon Hillier joined the Kurdish militia to stop the Islamic State’s advance and atrocities. Both grew up in similar communities, went to similar schools, and both seem to have had normal childhoods. Abu Anwar’s high school friends saw nothing to indicate an affinity for Islam or extremism.

Why the difference in these two? The only clue might be found in the divorce of John Maguire’s parents and his move to live with his grandparents. Did the breakup of his family push him into bitterness toward the west? Was it a failure of nurture? It’s hard to say.

Certainly, the influence of parents constitutes a crucial element in a person’s moral upbringing. “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged”(Col. 3:21). “Children…’honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’”(Eph. 6:1,2). A balance of loving nurture and wise parental training generally produces successful and moral adults.

And yet, Cain, who murdered his brother Abel, came from the same family. Arguably, being the first children after Eden, they grew up in a nurturing environment and even shared the same DNA. Why then the difference?

SunriseClearly, the space-time fall of Adam and Eve from innocence led to the twisting and distortion of all their progeny. “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”(Rom 5:12; 3:23). One of the most basic facts of humanity is that every one of us has been born with a sinful nature. Our nature is twisted so that “all of us [live to gratify] the cravings of our sinful nature and [follow] its desires and thoughts”(Eph. 2:3).

Four things contribute to helping us curb our sinful and selfish propensities. The first is parental nurture. The second brake on our sinfulness is the community in which we live—the values our community teaches and the deterrent that our society’s police provide. If brought up in North America we will have a strong entrepreneurial bent, a revulsion against cruelty, a desire for social justice, and an expectation of personal freedom. If however, we grow up in the North West Frontier of Pakistan and Afghanistan we will be shaped by that society’s view of hospitality—a good quality—but also by an honor system which would require us to exact revenge for slights to family or community. If we imbibe Islamist rhetoric such as found in Syria, Iraq or Yemen we might tend to feel the need to destroy non-Muslims.

The third brake on our sinful tendencies is conscience. If it has not been distorted by contrary cultural or family training, conscience will innately arouse a sense of what is right and wrong. Paul explains that even non-Jews who don’t have training in the law of God “show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them”(Rom. 2:15). This is why many Muslims know in their hearts that killing infidels or raping women is evil. Conversely, we in the west also know, when we listen to our consciences, that indiscriminate bombing or polluting the environment or using prostitutes or exploiting cheap labour is wrong.

The Fourth, and most powerful brake. Since neither parental nurture, nor community values, nor conscience can totally conquer our sinful natures, we need something more powerful. We need God to change our hearts and minds. As Jesus said, “You must be born again…of the Spirit.” (See John 3:5-21). Jesus Christ died upon the cross to conquer our sinful natures and deliver us from the judgment our sins deserve. That conquest occurs when we are converted, born again. How does this happen?

New Sugar Maple leaves unfurlingIf we would be born again, we must pray to Jesus Christ, confessing our sins, asking him forgive us, to cleanse us from sins’ pollution, to change our propensities, and to give us new hearts of love and devotion to Him and His will. From that point on we will give ourselves to follow the guidance he gives us in the Scriptures.

Fortunately, many people around the world, including Muslims, are hearing this call and responding to its good news. Has this been your experience?