We've dumbed down the gospel for too long. Let's rediscover the Bible and become mature disciples.
I love words. That's why I do a crossword puzzle every day—not just because it is the mental equivalent of a three-mile bicycle ride, but also because I enjoy discovering that a word such as "coulrophobia" means a fear of clowns, or that "jobbernowl" means a stupid person.
Words are especially important to us as Christians, not only because Jesus is the logos—the word made flesh (see John 1:14)—but because our faith rests on the truth revealed by God in the Bible. We can't really know Him apart from the God-inspired words that describe who He is and what He has done for us.
Let's stop the hypnotism, the guilt manipulation and the high-pressure gimmicks. It's time to reclaim our lost credibility.
Normally I'd rather go to the dentist for a root canal than watch a telethon. But while channel surfing a few nights ago I tuned into PBS and discovered that Aretha Franklin, the legendary Queen of Soul, was hosting a fundraiser for the network. Seated at a piano, she was offering a 5-CD collection of classic rhythm and blues hits in exchange for a donation to public television.
It was simple. There were no gimmicks, no games and no strings attached in Aretha's offer. If you gave the suggested gift, she explained, PBS would mail you a big slice of American pop culture—including songs by Gladys Knight and the Pips, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, Al Green and Aretha herself, singing her classic "Respect."
God is shaking His church and removing corruption. But we share the blame for giving charlatans a platform.
Al Capone once controlled all of Chicago. The notorious 1920s gangster bribed the city's mayor, bought the police and presided as king over an empire of casinos, speakeasies and smuggling operations. He dodged bullets for years and lived above the law—and earned the nickname "untouchable" because no one could bring him to justice.
Before Capone finally went to prison in 1932, he justified his crimes by saying: "All I do is satisfy a public demand." He didn't take responsibility for the pain he caused because he knew mayors, policemen, community leaders and bootleggers supported him the whole way.
When Mary and Martha sent news to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was about to die, Jesus didn’t respond the way his friends expected. He actually snubbed their request. The Bible says when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, “He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was” (John 11:6, NASB).
For those two anxious women, that was a very, very, very long time. Doubts tormented them. They thought: What kind of friend is Jesus, anyway? Why didn’t He rush to our aid? Mary was especially troubled by Jesus’ seemingly insensitive delay.
When moving from point A to point B, we sometimes feel trapped in between. Trust God to guide you to your destination.
A few months ago I passed through the tiny community of Between, Ga. With a population of only 148, the place is not much to write home about. (And besides, it doesn't even have its own zip code). The town got its name because it's halfway between Atlanta and Athens, Ga. But as I passed the local convenience store I couldn't help but imagine the strange reactions I'd get if I lived there.
This month a small group of Hispanic and Anglo Christians traveled from Florida to Arizona to pray for immigration reform.
While many Christians are arguing about Arizona's strict immigration law, charismatic pastor Nebby Gomez decided to do something about it. He and his wife, Dee, traveled from Florida to Arizona in early July with three members of their church to address what they believe are the spiritual roots of the crisis.
They prayed on the lawn of Arizona's capitol in Phoenix, where lawmakers passed the controversial SB1070 bill in April of this year amid national protests. Gomez and his friends also prayed on the site of Arizona's oldest Spanish mission near Tucson and on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border in Nogales.
No true message from God will flow through a person who is smug and self-confident. If you want to speak for Him, prepare to die!
I did it again. This past Sunday I stood in a pulpit, looked out over a congregation of mostly strangers, cleared the lump in my throat and preached a message that the Lord had laid on my heart from the Bible.
Thousands of men and women speak publicly like this every week. It's what preachers do. No big deal.
Make room for the Holy Spirit's bulldozers. He wants to give you an extreme makeover.
Last spring during a visit to Charlotte, N.C. I stopped by the Billy Graham Library to take a tour of the evangelist's boyhood home and to see his ministry's offices. In a shaded grove on the same property I stumbled upon the grave of his wife, Ruth Bell Graham. Her tombstone bore an unusual inscription: "END OF CONSTRUCTION. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE."
Mrs. Graham (who died in 2007) apparently saw these words on a highway sign, and she told friends that she wanted them on her grave marker. Apparently the message from the road construction crew reminded her of God's patient care in preparing her for heaven.
Two popular charismatic speakers stood on a stage a few years ago and tried to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit. One guy pretended to throw an imaginary “fireball” at his friend, who promptly fell on the floor as if he’d been zapped by divine power. Then, feeling equally playful, the guy on the floor stood to his feet and threw the “fireball” back at his friend—who fell down after the blob of God hit him.
Everybody had a hilarious time at this outrageous party. There was just one problem. The Holy Spirit is not a blob, a fireball or any other form of cosmic energy that can be thrown, maneuvered, controlled or manipulated.
This scenario happened in a charismatic church—a place where the ministry of the Holy Spirit is presumably honored and understood. It’s sad that many of us who wear the charismatic label have forgotten what the Scriptures teach about the third person of the Trinity. We need to step back, regroup and reconsider what the Bible says about who the Holy Spirit is and how He works:
1. He is the Spirit of the Lord. He is not a force (as in Star Wars), a magical power or an “it.” The Holy Spirit is God, and we should revere Him as God.
2. He is our regenerator. Jesus told Nicodemus that we are born again by the Holy Spirit (see John 3:5). True conversion is the most supernatural thing we will ever experience. When a person puts his faith in Christ for salvation, it is the Spirit who opens the heart and imparts divine life. He then indwells us—and He gives us the confidence that we are now children of God.
3. He is our empowerer. When we are baptized in the Holy Spirit we are “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, NASB). The Spirit who already indwells us fills us to the point of overflowing. Jesus said the Holy Spirit’s power would flow out of us like “rivers of living water” from our innermost being (John 7:38). This overflow releases supernatural boldness as well as the anointing for various gifts of the Spirit including prophecy, speaking in tongues and healing.
4. He is the Spirit of truth. The Spirit has access to all the wisdom and knowledge of God. When we abide in Him, He leads us continually into truth—causing us to grow and mature spiritually. He is our “teacher” (see 1 John 2:27), and those who depend on Him will walk in discernment and avoid deception and pride.
5. He is our counselor. Also translated advocate, comforter or helper, the actual Greek word, parakletos, means “one called alongside to help.” It implies that the Spirit comes to our legal defense when we are accused or troubled; it also means He is a close friend who offers encouragement, consolation and direction when we face any difficulty.
6. He is our intercessor. This is one of the greatest miracles of grace. The Spirit who lives inside us “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit prays the perfect will of God. No matter what kind of dark difficulty we face, the Spirit travails for us until we emerge safely through the test.
7. He is our refiner. The Spirit took the form of a dove at Christ’s baptism, but He is often portrayed in Scripture as a fire. He purifies us of bad attitudes, wrong motives, unhealthy addictions and selfish agendas. If we cooperate with Him, rather than quenching or grieving Him, the Spirit will purge the dross from our lives so we can reflect the character of Jesus.
Let’s rediscover the Holy Spirit. He is so much more than we ever imagined—more than a doctrine, a concept or a glowing blob of energy. I guarantee your spiritual life will go to a whole new level if you simply pray, “Come, Holy Spirit,” and ask for more of Him.
J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years. He now serves as contributing editor while devoting more time to ministry. You can find him on the Web at themordecaiproject.com. His latest book is The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale (Chosen Books).
Do you trust God's timing? The path to spiritual maturity requires us to surrender our selfish deadlines.
When Mary and Martha sent news to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was about to die, Jesus didn't respond the way his friends expected. He actually snubbed their request. The Bible says when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, "He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was" (John 11:6, NASB).
For Mary and Martha, those were two very long days.
Instead of denying or downplaying this misunderstood spiritual gift, we should have the courage to embrace it.
Last week after I taught a class on the Holy Spirit at a ministry school in Pennsylvania, a 22-year-old guy from Maryland asked if I could pray with him. He had heard me share how I was baptized in the Holy Spirit at age 18, and he wanted the same experience. He was especially intrigued by the idea of speaking in tongues—something he had never done even though he was comfortable around other classmates who had this spiritual gift.
This young man, Eric, understood that he already had the Holy Spirit. (We can't be born again without the Spirit entering our hearts and quickening Christ's life in us.) But he knew that Jesus offers us more—that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a second experience in which the fullness of God's divine power saturates us and anoints us for supernatural ministry.
When discouragement tries to rob you of joy and hope, open your mouth and turn up the volume.
Back in the old days, if you saw a guy talking to himself while he walked down the street you assumed (1) he had just walked out of a bar, (2) he was slightly on the loony side or (3) he had misplaced some money and was retracing his steps—like when absent-minded Uncle Billy lost his cash deposit in It's a Wonderful Life.
Today lots of people talk to themselves and we know they're not drunk, crazy or confused. They are wired to their phones, either with ear buds, headsets or Bluetooth devices. (What do you call more than one Bluetooth? Blueteeth?) What's weird is when you go into a men's restroom in an airport and guys are standing around talking to themselves—and closing business deals—with the sound of toilets flushing in the background. Welcome to the wireless generation!
It's time to check your posture: Are your hands in the air? True worship requires surrender.
Christians used to talk a lot about surrender. They called it the consecrated life, and they sang about it in hymns such as "I Surrender All," "Have Thine Own Way" or "Wherever He Leads, I'll Go." These songs fueled the missionary movements of the past.
How one brave Nigerian is risking his life to win militants and terrorists to Christ.
Kelechi Okengwu has taught me to face my fears.
This 32-year-old Nigerian evangelist will probably never star in a movie or be featured on the evening news. But he has been a younger role model for me since I met him seven years ago.
Converted to Christ at 21, Kelechi has spent the past decade reaching dangerous militants who are spreading violence on Nigeria's university campuses. Through his Gospel Mania Project, the young preacher shares his faith with leaders of The Black Axe, Brotherhood of the Black Brigade, The Big Eye, The Pyrates, the Buccaneers and The Mafia—clandestine groups that mix African occultism with drugs and violence to spread fear and political instability throughout the country.
For three years I’ve wanted to gather a group of friends for a time of encouragement and personal ministry. I couldn’t afford to host a fancy event, and I didn’t think these guys wanted a big hoopla with expensive hotels and high-priced speakers.
So we went with a simple format that involved a donated church facility, totally informal dress code, sub sandwiches, North Carolina barbecue and cheap rooms at a Hampton Inn. What surprised me was that 91 men from 20 states and four foreign countries showed up for three days of worship, small-group interaction and inspiring messages from 32 of the guys. (Don’t worry, they kept their comments brief.)
What happened in that small window of time amazed me. Weary pastors met new friends. Younger guys bonded with new mentors. Men opened their hearts about their deepest struggles. And best of all, God showed up and spoke to many of the guys about their insecurities and fears.
On the second day a panel of six young men shared about their need for godly role models. Some admitted that they have dysfunctional relationships with their dads. Others said they found it difficult to connect with spiritual fathers.
One man, Charles, said that in his church, young men were never allowed to develop real friendships with pastors or leaders. They were expected to be “armor bearers” who acted like personal valets—by shining the pastor’s shoes, carrying his water bottle and escorting him to the pulpit.
The young men who came to our Bold Venture discipleship weekend were crying out for authentic relationships. They aren’t going to receive the mentoring or the spiritual nurture they need by carrying a preacher’s Bible or by serving as his bodyguard. True discipleship only happens in a loving, relational context.
This was the apostle Paul’s method of discipleship. Though he did speak in church meetings, his ministry wasn’t focused on events, sermons or a flashy delivery style. And it certainly wasn’t about high-pressure offerings, pulpit showmanship or grand entrances. There was nothing fake or phony about New Testament Christianity.
Paul told the Thessalonians that he was “well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8, NASB). He knew ministry was all about investing in people. He did not live for applause, silk suits or swooning crowds.
The reason he could endure beatings, shipwrecks, betrayal, riots, hunger and imprisonment is that he loved the men and women on his ministry team. Everything he did was about pouring the life of Jesus into Timothy, Silvanus, Mark, Phoebe, Priscilla, Euodia and all the other New Testament heroes who called Paul a spiritual father.
How would Paul react if he were alive to see the warped version of “ministry” we’ve created? I imagine he would tear his robe and call us all back to raw humility.
Robert, a Ugandan pastor, wrote me a week after our retreat to share with me his plan for discipling men. He said: “Next week I will meet about 24 guys to deposit what I experienced. We are going to do life together, laugh, cry, be vulnerable and open with each other. This is not an African thing, but I know it is the way to go.”
Like Robert, I don’t want an armor bearer, a bodyguard or an entourage. But I do want to spend the rest of my life mentoring and empowering young people. It was Paul’s style. And it’s the Jesus way.
Discipleship is a simple concept—too simple for some of us who have become addicted to the fancy bells and whistles of American religion. But if you listen carefully, amid the noise of the crowd, you’ll hear the Holy Spirit calling us back to New Testament basics.
J. Lee Gradywas editor of Charisma for 11 years. He now serves as contributing editor while devoting more time to ministry. You can find him online at themordecaiproject.com. His new book, The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale, was released in April.
An Iranian evangelist says a spiritual awakening of unprecedented magnitude is occurring behind the scenes in a nation known for its terrorism.
Most Americans have put Iran on a blacklist. We're concerned about Shiite militants who spread terrorism around the world, we don't trust Iran's nuclear weapons plans and we can't stomach Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's human rights record or his maniac ways.
But my friend Lazarus Yeghnazar, an Iranian evangelist based in England, hopes you will develop some compassion for this part of the world. Most of us associate the Bible with Israel, but did you know that Esther, Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra and Habakkuk all walked on Persian land that is now called Iran? In fact, the tombs of Esther, Daniel, Habakkuk, Cyrus and Darius are in Iran.
Pentecost is Sunday, May 23. Here are four reasons we should celebrate the Spirit's outpouring.
I've often wondered why we tend to ignore the historic events of Acts 2. We celebrate Christmas for weeks, and we pack as many people as possible into our churches on Easter Sunday. But in our smug evangelical subculture, Pentecost is just an add-on, if it's noticed at all. We can take it or leave it.
Many pastors will make no mention of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost Sunday, May 23.
Many people today feel overwhelmed by negative circumstances. But you can be sure the Lord has an amazing plan to carry you through.
Long ago God promised He would send the Messiah through the lineage of King David. Yet there was a time in Judah's history when the royal seed was almost snuffed out.
It happened during the oppressive reign of Queen Athaliah, a selfish woman who was so power-hungry that she killed her own grandchildren in an attempt to secure her position. The Bible says in 2 Kings 11:1-3:
"When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she rose and destroyed all the royal offspring. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him from among the king's sons who were being put to death, and placed him and his nurse in the bedroom. So they hid from Athaliah, and he was not put to death. So he was hidden with her in the house of the Lord six years, while Athaliah was reigning in the land (NASB)."
Many Christians who defend biblical morality can sound hateful when it comes to immigration policy. What happened to loving our neighbor?
A few years ago I attended my oldest daughter's college graduation ceremony in north Georgia. The school had invited a respected state legislator to address the students—a woman known for her conservative Christian values. I enjoyed some of her remarks, until she suddenly veered onto the subject of immigration policy.
This lady launched into a blistering tirade against illegal immigrants and blamed them for bringing danger, drugs and disease into the United States. An icy chill went through the audience and students began to fidget nervously with their graduation caps. I was embarrassed.
In February I spoke to a group of ministry leaders associated with a particular denomination in South Carolina. They are hungry for a fresh move of God, but they are also aware that they aren’t effectively reaching people for Christ. Most of their small congregations are getting grayer by the day. I told these folks they have only two options: Change or die.
Using a story from the life of Isaac, I reminded them that we should never build our ministries with only one generation in mind. God identifies Himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Ex. 3:6, NASB). He wants His work to advance from one generation to the next. And this requires us to be open to change.
After Abraham’s death, Isaac journeyed to the land of Gerar during a famine. Genesis 26:18 says, “Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father ... for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham.”
God wants to open spiritual wells of blessing, but He doesn’t want to limit that blessing to one generation. Our enemy loves to stuff our wells with all kinds of garbage—religiosity, tradition, legalism and denominational politics. We must keep our wells unclogged.
Isaac renovated his father’s wells so they could be a blessing to his generation. In the same manner, we must be willing to remodel our ministries so the younger generation will want the drink we offer. I’m not talking about changing our core message or compromising on the altar of cultural fads. But we won’t effectively reach the Isaac generation with a stale, outdated presentation.
We need an extreme makeover. Here are just a few areas where you may need renovation, remodeling and unclogging:
1. Genuine, authentic spirituality.We overdosed on hype during the charismatic-Pentecostal movement. We celebrated preachers who wore shiny suits and helmet hair. We felt it was OK to push people to the floor during altar-ministry times. But young people today are nauseated by fakery and pretense. We don’t have to act weird to be supernatural.
2. Music styles.If we want to reach young people then we must update our playlists. We can’t be selfish and build our church services around the music of 1972. And remember: It is possible to update the great hymns of the church with new instrumentation without losing those classics.
3. Dress codes.Young people feel out of place when everyone looks like they are at a funeral. Many young guys today can’t afford to buy a dark suit, and young women don’t want to be forced to wear a feathered hat, white gloves or a skirt that covers their ankles. Nothing will clog up your well faster than yesterday’s religious garb.
4. Team leadership.The one-man show was the norm in churches in 1980. That system didn’t work and wasn’t biblical. Young people today want interaction and connection. In the New Testament, Paul had a multigenerational, multiethnic team that included men and women (see Rom. 16:1-16). So should we.
5. Relational discipleship.In the past season, Christians tended to be spectators who built their spiritual lives around big events. But young people don’t want to learn from a guy who arrives at the church in a limousine, sits on a throne on the stage, preaches from a pedestal and then disappears. They want a real relationship with a real spiritual father (or mother) who is willing to spend time with them.
6. Technology.You would never go to a foreign country to serve as a missionary without learning its language. Yet today many churches try to reach the younger generation without mastering digital media. God wants to use all new forms of communication to spread His truth.
Don’t get stuck in an old place. The Holy Ghost offers the best Drano for your clogged wells. Open up your life to the new things God is doing in this exciting hour.
J. Lee Gradywas editor of Charisma for 11 years. He now serves as contributing editor while devoting more time to ministry. You can find him online at themordecaiproject.com. His book, The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale, was released in April.