Over the past 30 years many of our churches have developed a sterile religious atmosphere. How can we reclaim relational Christianity?
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Legalistic religion is dangerous. Here's how you can detect and avoid the poison of a religious spirit.
After Elisha watched Elijah ascend into heaven, the prophet went to the city of Jericho and performed his first miracle. The men of that city faced an environmental crisis: Their water was toxic, most likely because of the sulphur and other chemicals that had rained down upon nearby Sodom and Gomorrah years earlier. This poison had made the land barren (see 2 Kings 2:19-22) and it was probably affecting people and animals as well as plant life.
So Elisha performed a bold, prophetic act. He threw salt in the water and proclaimed: "Thus says the Lord, ‘I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer'" (v. 21, NASB). His proclamation brought immediate cleansing.
We need voices from the past—like Andrew Murray, Corrie Ten Boom and Charles Spurgeon—to help us find our way to the future.
During a visit with my parents in Georgia, two of my daughters asked if they could listen to a tape recording my father made in 1962 when I was only 4 years old. So my dad rummaged through some drawers and found the old reel-to-reel tape, which was amazingly still intact. Then he went to the garage and found the old Realistic tape player that no one in the family had used since the Nixon administration.
To our surprise the scratchy tape actually played without breaking, and my girls laughed when they heard me—in a babyish Southern drawl—describing a Florida vacation and a fishing trip with my grandfather. After my "interview," it switched to an older recording made in 1956. It included a conversation with my dad's mother, who died before I was born.
It took an independent film company to make a movie that exposes the cultural oppression of women in the Middle East.
Millions of women around the world live under the ironfisted rule of male domination. They are gang-raped in Latin America; their genitals are mutilated in parts of Africa; they are forced to wear burkas in Afghanistan; they are sold as sex slaves in Thailand; they are denied education in India. Yet most westerners are oblivious to this cruel injustice. It's out of sight, out of mind.
But now, thanks to an independent film company and a director who cares about issues that Hollywood ignores, we have a movie that exposes the plight of women in Iran. It hit theaters last weekend, just a few weeks after Iran's authoritarian government came under international scrutiny.
After Colorado pastor Ted Haggard admitted to an embarrassing moral failure with a male prostitute in November 2006, the Christian community wasn't sure what to do with him. Some people wrote him off and kicked him to the curb. A few wept and prayed for the pastor and his devastated wife. We all tried our best to move on—knowing that the American church had suffered a big black eye through the ordeal.
I didn't know what to say to Haggard when the news broke two and a half years ago. Like so many others who had read his books, listened to his sermons and admired his church, I felt betrayed. I sent one brief e-mail to let him know I was praying. After he appeared in the HBO documentary The Trials of Ted Haggard earlier this year, I decided to ask him if he would talk to Charisma about his healing process.
God has prepared and anointed a new generation to carry His message.
We can quibble over when the previous wave of the Holy Spirit ended. But what's important is that we follow God's presence into a new season.
Some readers were offended when I declared in an online column a few weeks ago that the charismatic movement is dead. One woman even accused me of heresy, since—in her words—I believe "the age of the Holy Spirit has ended." (I didn't say that.) Others on the opposite side of the spectrum asked why I waited so long to state the obvious. All this discussion prompted me to address the issue further.
I am not a coroner. But I do believe the historic period we call the American charismatic movement ended a while ago. By making that pronouncement I was NOT saying that (1) the Holy Spirit isn't moving today; (2) the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit aren't available to us any more; or (3) people who are associated with this movement are all washed up.
Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul modeled accessibility and had close bonds with their disciples. That's the way we should do ministry.
A friend in Alabama recently told me about a preacher who came to his city in unusual style. The man arrived at a church in a limousine and was whisked into a private waiting room behind the stage area. The evangelist gave specific instructions to leave his limousine's engine running (I guess he wasn't concerned about rising gas prices) so that the temperature inside his car would remain constant.
This evangelist then preached to a waiting crowd, took up his own offering and retired to the waiting room for some refreshments. Then he left the church with his entourage without even speaking to the host pastor.
If I had been a black slave in Alabama in 1860 I would have been worth about $3,000 on the auction block because of my gender and height. Taller men cost more.
That’s one thing I learned this week while visiting a museum in Mobile, Ala., where some of the last slaves were sold in the United States. The museum also offered a sobering recreation of the interior of a slave ship, showing how Africans were stacked like cord wood and chained to each other in the frighteningly narrow hold.
Go ahead: Call me intolerant. I still believe the church must protect the marriage altar.
This past Saturday I stood on a church stage in Gainesville, Fla., and performed a wedding in front of 100 guests. The bride, Christina, was stunning in her billowing white gown. The groom, A.J., was beaming with delight. Tears flowed freely during the ceremony—especially during communion when a talented singing duo performed "The Prayer," the wedding anthem made popular by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli.
Thankfully there were no awkward moments—no fainting groomsmen, lost rings, squawking loud speakers or candles lighting dresses on fire. It was a picture-perfect moment in June, the month we've come to know as ideal for weddings even though summers in Florida are sweltering. I was grateful that I made it through my sermon without crying—since weddings involving friends or family can choke me up.
If you think your past has disqualified you, take courage from the life of this Gentile widow.
It is truly profound that Ruth's name appears in the royal genealogy of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Matthew tells us: "Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king" (Matt.1:5-6, NASB).
In Old Testament times women's names rarely appeared in genealogical records. Women were invisible. They were not valued for their gifts or talents; they simply faded into the background—even though they worked hard, served their husbands and raised children. Women had no voice.
The genuine power of the Holy Spirit is not just about miracles—we must also embrace holiness.
Very few evangelical Christians today observe the traditional church calendar. Sure, we know when to celebrate Christmas and Easter, but more obscure holidays like Epiphany or All Saints Day have long been forgotten—usually because we consider them "too Catholic."
But we have a strange way of treating Pentecost, which happens to fall this year on May 31. Even those of us who wear the Pentecostal label rarely commemorate it, either because we forget to count the weeks after Easter or because we don't place any importance on a date that gets lost somewhere between Mother's Day and Memorial Day.
The epidemic of moral failure among men in the church today is directly tied to our lack of healthy relationships.
Despite the proliferation of iPhones, Blackberries, e-mail and social networking Web sites—not to mention Starbucks locations—many Christian men, if they are honest, will tell you they are lonely. They may Twitter several times a day to co-workers; they may have occasional golf buddies; they may even grab coffee with colleagues from time to time. But so many men who attend church regularly are friendless.
This was made real to me last weekend when I spoke to a group of men at a large charismatic church in Rochester, N.Y. I was talking about three different types of relationships we need: (1) "Pauls," who serve as spiritual fathers; (2) "Barnabases," peer-level encouragers who support and challenge us; and (3) "Timothys," younger men we inspire and mentor.
At my second daughter's college graduation this weekend I saw the future of our movement.
Some people twitch or roll their eyes when you say the word Pentecostal. The term conjures up outdated images of either (1) slick-haired, Bible-thumping preachers who spew saliva on the unfortunate souls seated in the first three pews, or (2) scowling women with their hair in buns who know how to scare you with glossolalia.
Say goodbye to the worn-out stereotypes. Last weekend I saw the future of the Pentecostal movement when my wife and I attended a graduation ceremony at Emmanuel College, the liberal arts school in northeast Georgia that was founded 90 years ago by the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. What we witnessed on Saturday was a refreshing reminder that God has raised up a new generation of young people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Why are wives often ignored when male church leaders mess up? Their healing must be addressed too.
Put on your seat belt. What we are experiencing is so much more than an economic recession.
Unless you are Rip Van Winkle and have been asleep for years, I'm sure you feel the daily convulsions that are rocking our world. Change is hitting America right between the eyes. Everything that can be shaken is being shaken—from banks and insurance companies to car manufacturers and media empires.
Trusted brands, including Chrysler and United Airlines, may go out of business within months. Newspapers are laying off employees in droves as readers go digital; bookstores like Borders can't compete with Amazon.com. Pontiac is officially dead, and the city of Detroit—once the proud global headquarters of the auto industry—is rusting and jobless.
Before Slumdog Millionaire made the world's largest garbage dump famous, Biju Thampy was feeding the children who live there.
The Deonar garbage dump in Mumbai, India, is certainly not a glamorous location for a movie. The first thing that hit me was the smell—an awful combination of urine, rotting food and toxic fumes. But what made me nauseous was watching dozens of skinny Indian children forage through the mountainous heaps of trash looking for their next meal.
Welcome to Mumbai, a city of 24 million made famous last year by Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. The lead character in the movie, a boy named Jamal, grows up near the vast garbage dump (reportedly the world's largest), watches his mother die and then is coerced by a mafia boss into begging for rupees with other love-starved orphans.
Last December some children in the north Indian state of Orissa watched Hindu militants burn their fathers to death. Today these kids have found a refuge.
This past Monday at the Home of Hope Center in Coimbatore, India, more than 150 boys in matching uniforms stood in neat rows on the tile floor of their prayer chapel and began singing praise songs in Telugu, Hindi and Tamil. The smallest ones fidgeted as they clapped in unison. The older teens raised their hands in the air as they worshiped Jesus.
I sat on the stage and watched their smiling faces with amazement, knowing that some of these children had watched their own parents burn to death a few months ago.
Many Christians misjudged the California pastor after his recent interview with CNN's Larry King.
My switchboard almost short-circuited last week after California pastor Rick Warren appeared on Larry King Live to discuss the hot potato issue of the decade—same-sex marriage. Some concerned Christians called or e-mailed immediately to tell me that Warren had, just in time for Easter, denied his faith in true Judas style. They even lifted a quote from Warren's April 6 interview with King to prove that the pastor of the largest church in our country no longer believes in evangelical morality.
People who had not even seen the broadcast were hyperventilating. "How can Rick Warren do this to us?" they asked me. I decided to stay calm, breathe deeply and actually watch the broadcast instead of believing some slanted conservative blogs. (Note to readers: In this amazing age of TiVo andYouTube, you can actually check the facts easily before jumping to conclusions.)
After visits from three evangelists in four days, I figured it out. We've neglected the heart of our mission.
Something amazing happened to me last week during a ministry trip to Texas and Oklahoma. God sent three unexpected visitors over the course of four days to confirm something He is doing in the church today.
Last Thursday when I was speaking at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, my friend Sujo John called to say he wanted to drop by the campus and attend the conference with me. Sujo is a full-time evangelist who is originally from India. He surrendered to the ministry on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was buried under the rubble of the World Trade Center.