Jesus Christ redeemed us from the curse by His death, paid our debt and has called us to an eternal inheritance. We read in Hebrews 9:15, “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (emphasis added).
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When I felt led to start a small church magazine, I barely knew what God had in store. That magazine released 36 years ago today, so I thought it was appropriate to reflect on what's happened, and more importantly what is on the verge of happening as we move boldly into the digital world.
Many of you know Charisma started at a megachurch in central Florida. I was working full time as a newspaper reporter then. My, how the media world has changed! The staff found this in the archives: a black-and-white photo of me holding a copy of The Rock, a youth newspaper that I published before Charisma. They had me hold an iPad to show the contrast. Back then I could have never imagined today's iPad! Yet I dreamed that maybe somehow we'd reach a million people. Do you know how many trees you'd have to cut down to print that many magazines?
So from 1975—before the personal computer was invented and a time when the electric typewriter I used was considered high-tech—fast-forward more than three decades and now Charisma (and our other magazines) are available in digital format that's almost beyond belief.
Two elderly missionaries inspired me this week to value character so I can finish well.
You’ve probably never heard of Hobert and Marguerite Howard. They didn’t write best-selling books. They aren’t rich. They don’t preach on television or pastor a megachurch. Fame was the farthest thing from their minds when they both surrendered their lives to serve God on the mission field.
In 1951 this Pentecostal couple boarded a steamship and sailed for 50 days to India, where they built orphanages, schools and churches and trained Christian leaders. This week the Howards officially retired, and I had the privilege of attending a special reception to honor them for 60 years of service.
"Know this day that all you need shall be upheld in the atmosphere of perfect love. While many would allow godly love to grow cold, choose in all things to let that love abound through you. It will overcome the impossible and create an entrance for the supernatural," says the Spirit.
Because we are living in the last days that Jesus spoke about, it is more important than ever that we examine our walk with God regularly. The enemy is using so many different temptations, trials and distractions to throw people off track. Jesus said one of the ways this would happen is that our love for each other would begin to show signs of growing cold (Matt. 24:12).
Despite a “solid Christian” upbringing—raised in Hong Kong by Southern Baptist missionaries—I don’t remember ever being taught specifically about the Holy Spirit during my youth. Not one sermon or Bible study devoted to who He is, what He does, why we need Him ... nothing.
Like the kid on the playground picked for teams only because he was the coolest kid’s little brother, the Holy Spirit became a tagalong idea to my understanding of God. I doubt those raising me spiritually intended to shun the Holy Spirit so badly. Sure, He was always trumpeted as the divine inspirer of Scripture. And He was a staple on Sunday school flannelgraphs as the “dove from above” who accompanied Jesus.
But there was no talk of the Holy Spirit being an actual person like Jesus or the Father. Other than acknowledging by rote the Spirit’s fruit, there wasn’t a connection to how He regularly operated in us to produce such fruit. Certainly passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 (listing the Spirit’s gifts) weren’t discussed. After all, our mission board, though not cessassionist on paper, sent home any appointees found speaking in tongues or publicly confessing to such “extreme” gifts of the Spirit.
How to avoid the traps of religion and enjoy a real relationship with God
As a teacher of God’s Word, I have a great responsibility to equip people with the knowledge of how to live a holy life and not be legalistic. It’s part of addressing the age-old issue in the church of liberty versus legalism—by helping believers understand how to be free in Christ instead of “holier than thou.” But in our quest for freedom, we can’t forget that God is a holy God, and He does want us to live holy lives.
A good place to start is by simply understanding the difference between what real holiness actually means and what legalism looks like.
“Holy” means being separate and set apart for God’s use. It’s about belonging to God, not the world, and pleasing God, not man. The focus is on God’s love and grace—God’s power, given to us free of charge, to enable us to do with ease what we could never do with any amount of struggle or effort. It’s having a heart that desires to do what’s right because you love God, not because you want to try to earn something from God or impress anybody.
I was born again 41 years ago. At that time I had such a thirst for God’s Word that I would read it for hours, often staying up until 2 or 3 a.m.One of the Scriptures I encountered that set me on this course was Joshua 1:8: “this Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success” (NKJV).
In March of this year, approximately a week after the earthquake in Japan, I abruptly awoke at 1:23 a.m. I did not give it much thought, until I again suddenly awoke at precisely 1:23 a.m. the very next night. Knowing that the Lord was speaking through this prophetic sign, I carefully examined all the 1:23, 1:2-3, 12:3 and 123 scriptures in the Bible. I discovered in the 123 verses a clear prophetic message to America. The first thing that caught my attention was that two of the 123 scripture passages in the Gospels proclaim a sober message to prepare the way of the Lord, by making a straight path for Him.
There are three basic categories of Christians. The largest group consists of people who, though they try to avoid the darkness in the world, have no hope that the world can be redeemed. Assuming Christ's return is imminent, they retreat into what seems a shelter of apathy concerning the non-Christian world around them. Yet most are not truly apathetic. Their souls, like Lot's, are vexed by the conduct of unprincipled men (2 Pet. 2:7-8). Their compassion, though, is kindled even if it's limited. Rarely do they extend themselves beyond the needs of their immediate family and closest friends.
Peanuts. It is amazing that I still love them after all the drama they caused me as a very young boy. My mom kept a very large can of them in the cabinet. She kept a container the size of a tub of coffee, or an old “Crisco” can shut up tight with a plastic lid.
It is funny how certain events that happened even when we were very young are forever burned into our memories. This is one such incident. One night I was watching TV and had one of those “I need a snack” thoughts. I quietly went into the kitchen, climbed up in a chair where I could just reach the elusive peanut can. I got it down. It was very heavy … a good sign … it meant LOTS of peanuts to enjoy as I watched “Lassie.” I carried the can into the TV room and proceeded to climb up into my mom’s favorite overstuffed chair.
By all outward appearances, this was shaping up to be a great night. When I tried to get the lid off of the peanut can I noticed that it was very tight. I turned the can slightly on its side to get better leverage. POP. The lid came off. Instant tragedy! Used fried chicken oil spilled all over and worse, all over my mom’s special chair. My mom had used an empty peanut can to save her fried chicken oil to use again.
Since the Wild Goose Festival was held in North Carolina’s mountains, you might be tempted to think it was a typical bluegrass festival. Think again. The organizers of this event, which attracted 1,500 people in late June, say their quasi-Christian conference “is going to grow into the largest, best run, most dynamic religious happening in the U.S.”
If a slick-haired TV evangelist had made such a pompous statement we would have rolled our eyes and laughed the guy off the stage. But the founder of Wild Goose, a peace activist from Northern Ireland named Gareth Higgins, is convinced his movement will capture the hearts of young Americans who are questioning their evangelical faith and exploring other options.
I wish you could have experienced the powerful connections that took place recently at our headquarters near Orlando, Fla., with high level ministry and business leaders. It illustrated the “power of connection,” which to me is important since I am a “networker” by nature.
Graham Power, a successful Christian businessman from South Africa who founded the Global Day of Prayer, shared from his rich experience in the marketplace and in ministry. He taught on principles of leadership and living out one's calling as a believer in the business world in a program he calls "Unashamably Ethical." Click here to listen to an interview with Power.
We also had time to talk in a confidential round-table setting about some of the opportunities and challenges we were facing in our different situations, share ideas, offer counsel and of course pray together. We all left encouraged and equipped. The emails I've been getting have told how much they got as members of the new Ministry21 Network.
M21 Network (as we sometimes call it) is a relational network bringing together like-minded pastors and leaders to develop their own leadership skills, connect them with others, provide needed coaching, continuing education and wonderful resources.
Time and space are two of the most interesting and difficult concepts to grasp as you move through your life journey. We are in time, but God is not. Though some of us may feel that we were born out of time, we have been set in time and place to understand our Creator and what He created us to accomplish.
Rose Cameron Ferrell, 1915-2011
For many, mother-in-law jokes have a ring of reality. But for me they don’t. I had the perfect mother-in-law—Rose Ferrell who left us this week. In the 38 years I've been her son-in-law, we never had a cross word. It was well known in the family that she always sided with the in-laws if there was ever an argument.
She lived with Joy and me for the past 3-1/2 years. She was always independent and a pleasure to have in the home. She was a godly woman, and I would hear her praying for her six children, nine grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
Now she’s gone. On Monday, at age 96, she breathed her last surrounded by family and friends. I had spent the night with her in the hospital on Friday, helping the nurses care for her. I fed her breakfast and she was doing so well I took off the next morning for the annual booksellers convention in Atlanta. But she had been hospitalized for congestive heart failure and Monday morning it was obvious it was a matter of hours until she died. As soon as I found out, I immediately flew home from Atlanta and arrived at the hospital in Altamonte Springs, Fla., an hour before her heart quit beating.
If you or someone you know is battling sexual temptation, take these five steps toward GRACE.
This week my wife and I ministered to a group of 115 Russian teenagers at a youth camp in Virginia. Part of our job was to separate the guys and the girls and facilitate honest (and sometimes awkward) discussions about sex, dating and guy/girl relationships. They put their anonymous questions in a black box (“How do I know if she’s the one for me?” or “Is it OK to use condoms?”), and we answered while the kids giggled nervously.
I spoke to the guys on the first night about what I call the Porn Monster, using the description of the adulterous woman in Proverbs 7 as my text. In this passage the writer recounts the sad story of a vulnerable young man who wanders into the wrong part of town where a harlot seduces him. The story concludes with these haunting words: “Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways … for many are the victims she has cast down” (Prov. 7:25-26).
It is interesting to me that one of the greatest states in our Union, New York, has recently made legal the marriage of two people of the same sex. There is a lot of sin in the world, and along with God I am against all of it, to include any that may operate within me.
In the aftermath of the devastation of 9-11, coupled with the series of severe and destructive hurricanes, historic Gulf oil spill, wars in the Far East, uprisings in northern Africa and the Middle East, and the devastating earthquake in Japan all happening in just the last few years, one is prone to ask many questions. In times of uncertainty, the “why” question appears in its many forms. But perhaps the question to be asking is not just “Why?” but “How?”
Her “not guilty” verdict made a lot of people mad. But before we vent any more anger we may need an attitude check.
Where were you on July 5 when the Casey Anthony verdict was released? Just before the 2:15 p.m. announcement, I was in a restaurant in Orlando with my family—and our waitress was so anxious to hear the outcome of the trial that she brought up the topic after we ordered our lunch. Not since the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial have Americans invested so much emotional energy in a courtroom drama.
Because I live near Orlando where the trial was held, I’ve grown weary of the never-ending local news coverage, which included stories on how much Casey was allowed to spend on toiletries every week at the Orange County jail and how long out-of-town visitors waited in line to get tickets to the trial. I remember when 2-year-old Caylee Anthony went missing in 2008. I remember when her decomposed remains were found six months later in some woods near her home. I listened to the blur of reports about duct tape, the suspicious odor in the trunk of the car, the chloroform, and her mother’s partying habits.
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