This Christmas, Im thinking more about Simeon and Annanot because Ive reached their age bracket yet, but because I have more appreciation for people who wait patiently for Gods promises.
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Aussie missionaries Les and Sally Freeman have given their lives to reach the neglected Aborigines.
Most Americans fondly remember Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife lover and gregarious host of Crocodile Hunter who wrestled reptiles on camera and then died in 2006 after an attack by a sting ray. He was the epitome of Aussie spunk. Yet I’ve learned there are Aussie Christians with the spiritual equivalent of Irwin’s daredevil courage.
A prime example: Les Freeman, a 31-year-old Pentecostal preacher who has been planting churches in Aboriginal areas of northern Australia for nine years. He doesn’t wrestle crocs, but this tough guy and his brave wife, Sally, have battled snakes, demonic curses and environmental hardships to take Christ’s love to a neglected mission field.
I became a serious Christian at the tail end of the Jesus movement. I was too young to remember the hippie beads, tie-dyed shirts and “Jesus Is Groovy” slogans, but the songs were still popular when I was in college (from musicians such as Andrae Crouch, Love Song and Barry McGuire), as were the movies (especially The Cross and the Switchblade.)
The Jesus movement was like a spiritual tsunami that washed over hundreds of thousands of young people in the late 1960s and early ‘70s and brought them into a personal relationship with Christ. Some of these kids had been drug addicts and social misfits; most were just average Joes and Janes who discovered that Jesus is a lot more exciting than traditional churches had led them to believe.
Evangelist Scott Hinkle and his wife, Nancy, have sold everything to reach one of the most unchurched regions of the United States.
I’m not a fan of Jersey Shore, the MTV reality show that features Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and a band of 20-somethings who share a house near Seaside Heights, N.J. The program glamorizes casual sex, celebrates alcohol abuse and degrades an entire ethnic community by using the racial epithets “Guido” and “Guidette” to describe Italian-American guys and girls.
But one thing is for sure: Jersey Shore accurately portrays the gritty urban region south of New York City. It is one of the most unchurched areas of the country, and it’s also known as the heroin capital of the United States.
Charismatic pastor Jim Swilley’s announcement that he is gay opened the door wider for a subtle delusion. Don’t believe it.
Many people were shell-shocked last week when Atlanta pastor Jim Swilley stood in front of his congregation, Church in the Now in Conyers, Ga., and announced that he is gay. The 52-year-old minister was abruptly removed from his position in the International Communion of Charismatic Churches—a network in which he served as an overseer. Some of Swilley’s members left his church, others stayed, and countless others are now scratching their heads.
We Americans are lost in a moral fog. Two major Protestant denominations (the Episcopal Church USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) have voted to ordain gay clergy. Meanwhile, gayness is celebrated in our media, and anyone who refuses to bow to this idol is painted as intolerant and homophobic.
Paul Anderson, a 66-year-old charismatic Lutheran, has started a discipleship revolution in Minneapolis.
Paul Anderson doesn’t act his age. I hope he never does.
A father of the charismatic renewal movement among Lutherans, the 66-year-old minister could be settling down to retire. Instead, he’s pioneering a new outreach to young adults in Minneapolis—and reaching hundreds of 20-somethings who are bored with traditional church.
“I am proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks,” Anderson told me last weekend when I interviewed him in his home in north Minneapolis.
The New Testament church was characterized by exciting miracles and supernatural anointing, but it was not immune to division. The earliest churches suffered splits—not only because of doctrine but also because of bitter personal disputes.
Even the apostle Paul, who modeled Christian affection and implored his followers to preserve the bond of love, had an unfortunate disagreement with his close colleague, Barnabas, early in their ministry partnership.
The exact nature of their argument is a mystery. We only know that Paul did not want to take John Mark, Barnabas' cousin, on his second missionary journey because the young disciple had deserted the team in Pamphylia. Acts 15:39 says: "And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed to Cyprus. (NASB)"
The apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians is one of the Bible's most unique books. Some scholars call it "the epistle of joy" because the word "joy" or "rejoice" appear in it 16 times. Yet what is amazing is that this letter about Christian joy was written from a prison cell!
While Paul was under the watchful eye of Roman guards, bound in chains, he wrote some of the most uplifting spiritual words ever penned. In the letter's four short chapters the author continually exhorts us to praise God no matter how dark our circumstances are. He writes: "I will rejoice" (1:18, NASB), "I rejoice and share my joy with you all" (2:17), "I urge you, rejoice in the same way" (2:18), "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord" (3:1) and "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" (4:4).
Last week I went to the nation of Colombia to preach in a conference sponsored by two churches in the city of Barranquilla. I could have gone alone, but I asked Jason, a young pastor from South Carolina, to accompany me on the seven-day trip.
When we boarded our first flight to Panama I said to Jason: "You are going to grow two feet during this adventure." He told me yesterday when we were preparing to come home: "I think I grew two-and-a-half feet."
I'm sure you felt as heartsick as I did when you heard about the nightmarish charges leveled against Atlanta preacher Eddie Long of New Birth Full Gospel Baptist Church. While I passed through two airports last Thursday, CNN was airing the sordid details of the lawsuits filed by two young men who are accusing Long of coercing them into sex. Two more men have since come forward with similar lawsuits.
Whether the charges are true or not (please pray for Long and his church during this ordeal), it was awkward to hear newscasters suggesting that a married Pentecostal bishop had abused his power and carried on secret gay affairs. What's really sad is that in our sexually desensitized culture people don't even blush when they hear such talk about a minister.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.