The strange foods I've eaten on the mission field remind me that Jesus crosses all cultural barriers.
Would you drink a frog smoothie? Would you eat a piping hot bowl of monkey stew with a side of fried ants? I didn't try these popular delicacies when I was in Peru last week. I stuck with the grilled cuy, better known as guinea pig. It is actually quite tasty, as long as you don't think about the fact that you are eating a rodent.
Ever since God showed the Apostle Peter it was OK to eat unclean meats (see Acts 10:9-16), Christian missionaries have faced amazing gastronomical challenges when venturing into new cultures. After a Peruvian friend promised to fix me some sopa de mono (monkey soup) when I return to the jungle city of Tarapoto, I asked friends on Facebook to list the strangest foods they'd eaten on the mission field. Here are some of the dishes mentioned, and where they are served:
A humble missionary couple in Peru, Jaime and Telma Gomez, showed me this week what it means to be passionate for Christ.
Peruvian schoolteacher Jaime Gomez and his wife, Telma, gave their hearts to Jesus in 1969 through the influence of Baptist missionaries who came from the United States to the Amazon town of Yurimaguas. After Jaime's conversion, he felt a strong call to ministry, yet he knew he did not have the power to be a witness. Without any exposure to Pentecostals, he felt God showed him he would be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
A few days later, after seeing a vision of God touching his mouth, Jaime was overcome by heavenly power. "He spoke in tongues for six straight days," his wife told me this week in an interview in Tarapoto, a city in north Peru where the Gomezes began their church planting ministry.
Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who plans to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11, does not speak for charismatic Christians.
Most of us reacted with a collective groan when we learned that the pastor of a small charismatic church in Gainesville, Fla., said he plans to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11. I was especially disappointed because I lived in Gainesville in my 20s. This man's irresponsible plot has put a bustling college town in the crosshairs of a possible terrorist attack—and has made evangelical Christians look like intolerant goons.
I'd like to go on the record to say this: Rev. Terry Jones does not speak for charismatic Christians, and his brand of fire-breathing judgmentalism doesn't even remotely resemble the message of Jesus Christ. I am praying that he will repent and renounce his outrageous intentions before the time arrives to strike the first match.
In the oil country of western North Dakota I met a brave woman pastor who is blazing a spiritual trail.
Barb Becker is one tough lady. Raised by alcoholic parents in a mining camp in Wyoming, she lived a rough life that included drugs and promiscuity. People continually told her she was good for nothing. She hated herself and became suicidal.
But in 1985, on the same day she planned to kill herself, she bought a little book called Power for Living for 25 cents at a second-hand store, read the Christian testimonies in it and prayed to receive Jesus as her Savior. She became so hungry to know God that she read the Bible straight through four times in three months and ended up getting baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Last week one of my best friends showed me what it really means to selflessly lay down your life.
Last week one of my best friends, Chris Maxwell, organized a two-day prayer gathering for me in north Georgia, where he serves as the pastor of a Christian college. Chris had listened to me whine for months about how confused I was about my future. He took it upon himself to contact a group of my friends, and they agreed to take time off work to pray with me about some important decisions.
Chris not only gathered nine men for this prayer retreat, but he also solicited counsel from other friends who couldn't attend, and from my wife. When I sat down in that living room on the first night, they put me under a microscope and proceeded to meddle in all my business. It was 48 hours of probing questions, wise counsel, sober warnings, gushing encouragement, brotherly affection and in-your-face honesty.
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.